1776 After Howe had put to sea, leaving Boston to Washington and his curious following, the American commander turned his attention to the central avenue of the country, the Hudson. He felt that the next place of attack by the enemy would be New York City. Having provided a holding force of about 5,000 against a possible return of the British to Massachusetts, he hastened south and west with the remainder. Except for the numerous armed journeymen who had oscillated at will between the siege and their firesides, the Revolutionary army for the first time became a mobile force. The hardships of march, bivouac and temporary camp — the true rigors of war — began to settle their dampness upon the ardor of the patriot soldier.
Over the primitive roads, narrow trails and grassy lanes of New England, the long line in Indian file threaded its straggling way to New London. Behind each company of musketeers followed the fifer and drummer giving vent to such enlivening strains as "The Pioneer's March" or "Roslin Castle." Banners of red, brown and yellow bearing homemade legends preceded the battalions. Gaps of varying sizes opened and closed within and between companies. Cannons mounted on rickety carriages rumbled along on awkward and noisy cart wheels. Farmer Stout going into the fields in the early morning beheld the epauleted generals in the van of the column; returning to his dinner he watched the progress of the multiform companies; and walking between the furrows in the dusk of the evening he heard the loud cries of the cart drivers and tinkling bells of the cattle bringing up the rear.
Impressed by this big display of a small force, the gawking p25 yokel and adventurous townsman took down their fowlingpieces from over their fireplaces, and fell in behind their kinsmen or friends in the hope that they too might take part in the general excitement of bagging a few redcoats.
Where the eager came by ones, the disheartened left by twos. The Massachusetts militiamen grew timid at the sight of the strange wilderness of Connecticut far from home. He was physically uncomfortable, too. His feet, bound in low, ill‑fitting shoes and unused to the long stretches and rapid, even gait of the march, were hot and blistered. Added to the twenty pounds of lead, steel, wood and leather on his person, he had accumulated at some recently visited farmhouse a frying pan, salt pork, dried venison or a coffeepot with which he had carefully bulged his homely hunting shirt. Had he not done so he would have lacked nourishment at the end of the day's march, for under General Mifflin's service of supply the wagons either dumped their contents far from the hungry or did not arrive at all.
In consequence of such discomfort, the near‑by thicket, the wayside tavern, or the smiling face of a maid was an attraction too strong to be withstood by the young soldier, especially when his officers and noncommissioned officers had neither force nor semblance of disciplinary power to call back the truant. After the long line had passed from sight over the next hill, he slowly drifted homeward and was gathered unto his people. At his own threshold he was met by the saintly mother, the good wife and the village smith who agreed they could not exactly see why a Massachusetts Bay man should fight under a New Jersey officer for the sake of New York settlers.
1776 Washington finally arrived in New York, where he found that Lee, who had been sent ahead from Boston and was then in the south, had well begun the work of defense. Kingsbridge at the northern end of Manhattan, redoubts around the southern end, and earthworks at Brooklyn Heights on Long Island were under way. At once the American commander set to work to complete these widely separated fortifications, in which task he found his soldiers most skillful. Sapping, like shooting, was an art in which the American was expert. The frontiersman and Maine woodsman proved to be ready with the ax and dextrous p26 in matting revetments out of the tangle of wildwood infesting the Bronx and the Battery.
To gain recruits Washington marched and countermarched his ragamuffin collection up and down the Island. But the wavering loyalist, instead of being enraptured, was inclined to be disgusted at the sight of the ill‑clothed soldiers and coarse officers. With his mediocre official family Washington was hampered by sporadic drills, puerile instructions and lamentable ignorance of discipline. Colonels were repeatedly instructed in orders that unless they broke sentries of the practice of sitting down on post, the delinquents could not justly be shot for sleeping thereon. Captains had to be directed to see that every man when he came into action had twenty-four cartridges in his pouch and a good flint in his piece. Subalterns were desired to salute at ceremonies by doffing their caps until they could master the intricate operation of presenting their fusees.
Such was the summer's work of the dwindling force. Its play was that of Tory-baiting, a mild pastime which consisted in catching a luckless loyalist, stripping, tarring, feathering and riding him on a rail or in a cart as an object of ridicule and missiles. In many cases the victim was permanently injured. Another expression of this sport was that of collecting about the house of some British sympathizer in the dead of night and of raising a sudden cry of "Fire"! In that period of the world when no snorting engines or convenient hydrants played their prompt parts in the quenching of flames, such a sinister sound meant to those within the wooden dwellings suffocation or cremation. Naturally, the occupants came pouring forth in scant attire only to find themselves objects of indignity on the part of heterogeneous soldiery, some of whom immediately began looting the house.
Washington found himself powerless to check these misdemeanors or to enforce discipline on account of lax officers and floating recruits. He was so distraught by the weak character of his personnel that he recommended to the Committee of Safety that Congress provide a proportion of two to one against the British in order to make up in numbers for the American deficiency in quality.
1776 On account of the limited powers of the delegates, Congress was then busy making laws it could not enforce, voting money it could not raise, and making armies it could not assemble. It called out 13,000 militia from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts, and provided for a "flying camp" of 10,000 in New Jersey to be enrolled from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. As to the militia they were slow in coming and the "flying camp" really never materialized. Though the name of the latter has a brisk, American sound, it should more appropriately have been termed evanescent or fleeting camp. The idea was to collect the armed inhabitants into a large reserve without having regular enlistments. But when the majority of those who were regularly enrolled would not stay, it is easy to see why those who had to take no obligations would not come at all. In gaining troops, Congress was truly in the position of calling "spirits from the vasty deep."
The fact that the recruit was hard to get should have convinced the members that once he was obtained his term of service should be for a relatively lengthy time, if for no other reason than the training derived from experience in the field. It does not seem possible that reasonable men should repeat the mistakes of the previous year by limiting enlistment periods to six months and less, in the face of Washington's entreaty to the contrary. But that was exactly what the delegates did.
1776 On the other hand, they framed a resolution for a permanent committee of five to form a Board of War and Ordnance. This body, to which all military questions were to be referred, was the first suggestion of a War Department. But such organization was unimportant in comparison to the Declaration of Independence. July 4
1776 The formal separation from the parent country should have shown the civilians and the army that they were officially alone and self-reliant. Whether the soldiers realized the added burden placed upon them is difficult to infer from Washington's description of the reception of this daring document July 8
1776 which he ordered to be read at the head of each brigade. "The measure," he wrote, "seemed to have their most hearty assent."
Following the Declaration, however, Congress found it necessary to increase the "flying camp" because of the quick
p28 efflux and slow influx of recruits.
1776 As one would raise his bank account by merely adding figures in his check book, so the lawmakers created four battalions of militia from Pennsylvania, three from New Jersey, and two of continentals from Virginia. The colonies made it continually more difficult for the central government to obtain soldiers. Connecticut and Massachusetts began offering to their recruits $33.33 over the bounty allowed to the continentals or regulars enlisted by Congress for the duration of the war. New Jersey bid $53.33, whereupon Massachusetts and New Hampshire raised their offers to $86.66. No wonder the soldier went to the highest bidder, especially when that bidder, the commonwealth, required only a "few months' walk" in return for this enormous gift. It was too much to ask of human nature that a man serve ten times longer for far less bounty. And to add to the temptation of militia service, the states were paying in sound money while the Congress, if it remitted at all, was dealing out depreciating notes. Miraculously the Amos Farnsworths stayed with the continental colors despite the poor profit and lengthy discomfort, but they were of the handful who believed independence to be a vision of God and the fight for it beyond the vanities of this world.
1776 Congress indulged itself also in making four new major generals: Heath, Spencer, Sullivan and Greene. It passed over Pomeroy, Wooster and Thomas, for apparently no reason other than that described by Chase of Maryland when he stated that the delegates were persisting in the error of recommending "persons from personal friendships who were not suitable." John Adams, who, as Belcher asserts, was "unhappily incapable of seeing conspicuous merit in any one but himself," stated there would be "less danger in vesting the power (of appointment) in any assembly than in giving it to a general." On the other hand, Duane of New York declared he would "rather take the opinion of Washington than of any convention." It afterwards transpired when the commander in chief took over the appointing power that subordinates were selected because of their familiarity with the business of arms.
Howe, whose army had landed on Staten Island the day following the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, finally p29 determined to venture over to Long Island. He took with him at least 20,000 effectives from his total force of 35,000.
The American army was in the incubation period of its characteristic complaint — torpid enlistment. Congress had legislated over 50,000 men into the service,
1776 yet Washington in order to oppose the British general could collect barely 8,000 fit for duty.
1776 It is not remarkable that Howe by an admirable turning movement overwhelmed the little outpost of 2,500 near Flatbush, as one would pinch a piece of pulp between the thumb and forefinger. According to one captured American, who confessed after the battle that his duties had been to "flank a little and carry tidings," it would appear that the service of security and information had been carried along very well. As a matter of fact the Americans had no cavalry, nor had they much idea of the use of patrols. The five officers who had been employed for that purpose over the Jamaica road, the forefinger of the British attack, were easily captured as the enemy's column came along. Putnam, in his usual zealous blundering, sent more troops into the trap after he was made cognizant of the force on the flank. Another American leader ingenuously stated that the Jamaica road was a "route we never dreamed of." Stirling and Sullivan were captured, the latter while hiding in a cornfield. One brilliant colonel, outstripping the others in the general retreat, destroyed without authority a very necessary bridge, thus aiding the British in scooping more successfully the flying Americans. Above 2,100 were killed or captured, some few making their way back to Brooklyn Heights.
How little the private realized the results of the battle is to be gleaned from one diarist who set down this effective epitome:
"Our Army on Long Island Have ben Engaged in battle with the Enimy and Killd And taken a good many on Both sides."
That afternoon six hours of daylight remained for Howe to exterminate not over 5,500 disheartened Americans and so end the Revolution. Being immersed in Whiggish thought, he did not move.
1776 The next morning rain rendered the American p30 powder useless. Again the British opportunity for easy victory with cold steel must have impressed Howe. And again he ignored the invitation. Certainly the scattering fire encouraged by Washington among those who could keep their powder dry did not deceive a tried soldier like the British commander.
Taking advantage of Howe's hesitancy, Washington ordered Mifflin, his quartermaster general, to "collect every flat-bottomed boat and other craft . . . fit for transporting troops." The little army had at its back a deep channel and in its front an overwhelming number of the best trained soldiers of Europe. A large percentage of the colonial troops had left their blankets and equipment on the battlefield several miles away. Their powder was wet with rain and their spirits dampened by defeat.
1776 Under cover of a fog Washington completed the transportation of this entire force to the Manhattan shore. Thanks to its sagacious leader, London weather and a British general, the American army lived to fight another day.
1776 But that day, as will be seen when Howe arrived in pursuit several weeks later, adds no brilliant luster to American arms.
In the meantime, Congress received from Washington the description of the effect upon the troops of the disaster of Long Island:
1776 "The check our detachment sustained on the 27th ultimo has dispirited too great a proportion of our troops and filled their minds with apprehension and despair. The militia instead of calling forth their utmost effort to a brave and manly opposition in order to repair our losses, are dismayed, intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone off — in some instances almost by whole regiments, by half-ones, and by companies at a time."
John White, writing from Rhinebeck after these parties had time to arrive home, confirms Washington's statement by saying:
"I suppose there are not less in this and the Northeast Precinct than thirty (deserters) who keep in the woods and are supported by their friends."
1776 When Howe landed at what is now East 34th Street, the effect upon the untrained colonial levies was what might have been expected. Washington again records, in characteristically conservative style, this pitiful event:
"As soon as I heard the firing, I rode with all possible despatch toward the place of landing, when, to my great surprise and mortification, I found the troops that had been posted in the lines retreating with the utmost precipitation, and those ordered to support them (Parson's and Fellow's brigades) flying in every direction and in the greatest confusion, notwithstanding the exertions of their Generals to form them. I used every means in my power to rally and get them into some order, but my attempts were fruitless and ineffectual, and on the appearance of a small party of the enemy, not more than 60 or 70, their disorder increased, and they ran away in the greatest confusion without firing a shot."
"Every means in my power" consisted in riding in among the fugitives and beating officer and man unavailingly with the flat of the saber until the scourger himself was barely rescued from the enemy. The one defect that aroused the anger of the Father of his Country was cowardice.
1776 The letter quoted had no more than reached Congress before that body made two enactments affecting the army. One was the completion of theº "The Articles of War" with the injunction that they be read every two months at the head of each company, troop and regiment. Two hours were required in mouthing this legal recital of offenses and penalties, fourteen of which prescribed death. The unlettered soldier, knowing how few of the punishments were actually executed, was far from being impressed. The other act promulgated after great reluctance on the part of the delegates was fully as fruitless. It called for the creation of 88 battalions of continentals or regulars to be taken proportionally from all thirteen colonies. If the soldier engaged for the entire war he was offered $20 in money and from •500 acres of land for a colonel to •100 for a private. The week central government now raised its inducement and began to bid against the powerful colonies. But it p32 gave to the states the right of naming the officers of this force, Congress perfunctorily issuing commissions.
The 88‑battalion measure showed advancement in the attempt to establish a regular continental army for which Washington had contended through so many months, but the bounty system was the inauguration of wasteful legislation. Further, in delegating to the states the appointment of officers, Washington's plans of organization were frustrated. He could not advance or appoint a single subordinate without first consulting the governors who were in many cases several months' journey away. Invariably it turned out that state preference lay with the influential novice rather than with the able veteran.
The day Howe, by the very appearance of landing, put so many Americans to flight, he could easily have entrapped Putnam at the southern end of the Island by merely moving onward. Although he was conversant with this fact, he chose to accept an invitation to dine at the Murray House on Murray Hill with some charming ladies. Putnam being unopposed was extremely successful in making his escape.
The next morning, Washington, finding Howe still inert, determined to develop his whereabouts. Selecting a body of 120 rough and ready mounted men known as Knowlton's Rangers, he sent them forward to gain contact. In a skirmish known as Harlem Heights they acquitted themselves nobly by pursuing the foe and giving more blows than they took. Although from a military point of view the engagement was indecisive, it did much to restore the failing courage of the Americans.
Yet it did not check desertions enough to show any effect upon the dwindling force. Signs of absenteeism were particularly noticeable in the service of supply where great quantities of beef were left to putrefy on the ground.
1776 Congress acknowledged the general disintegration by adding to its bid for continental troops an annual gift of two linen hunting shirts, two pairs of overalls, one leather or woolen waistcoat with sleeves, one pair of breeches, a hat or leather cap, two shirts, two pairs of hose and two pairs of shoes. Oct. 12
1776 Nevertheless Washington's backing fell off so materially that he was forced to retreat to White Plains or be cut off.
1776 The British, in following him, were met by Glover's brigade at Pell's Point, where the red‑coated ranks in the open were mowed down by the Americans behind stone walls. The untrained woodsmen again demonstrated their ability to hit the target as long as there was a sufficient barrier between the enemy's bullet and their bowels. In this uneven action the Americans had 16 casualties against some 800 of the British, so that the morale of the retreating army received another slight pulsation.
1776 When the actual battle of White Plains occurred, however, nothing but a rainstorm which wet the ammunition and stopped temporarily all hostilities, saved Washington's puny force from decisive defeat. In his disadvantageous position he was compelled to withdraw to the heights of Newcastle for safety.
1776 Then came the disaster of Fort Washington, which gave Long Island, Manhattan and New Jersey to the enemy. Over a month previous Washington had sent word to Greene, the commander of the fortress, that the place was untenable and should be abandoned. Here Congress intervened by directing Greene not to relinquish it except under dire necessity. In consequence, Howe surrounded and captured it with an overwhelming force and by a well-planned maneuver, taking 2,600 prisoners with many stores and provisions. Not only was it a serious loss in itself, but its fall necessitated the precipitate evacuation of Fort Lee across the river. In all, Congress by its interference in a business to which it was an absolute stranger and from which it was far removed, contributed to the British 146 pieces of artillery, 12,000 shot, 2,800 small arms, and 400,000 musket cartridges.
A regimental adjutant before the assault, becoming an "old countryman" (deserting to the enemy), with all the plans of the fort, furthered congressional effort. In taking over the prisoners the British were highly amused at the "butcher and baker" who made up the commissioned personnel, and especially at one captain who insisted upon styling himself "keppun."
1776 The campaign of New York was ended with Washington fleeing south. As he crossed the Hudson, the New York and the New England militia of four states left him almost in a body. He was pushed so rapidly across the Hackensack that p34 he had Nov. 28
1776 to abandon much of his commissary stores, baggage, and over thirty cannons. As he moved out of Newark, Cornwallis on his heels entered the other end of the town. Indeed, if the British had not been retarded by Howe, the patriot remnants could easily have been swallowed up or put to flight. The colonial troops were only too anxious to depart. Nov. 29
1776 The New Jersey and Maryland militia, finding that their terms had expired, left the colors forthwith in the face of Washington's most earnest entreaties. Only the sturdy continentals remained. Winter was coming on. Clothing was ragged and scant. Many a man was marching in his bare feet so that lameness and sickness resulted.
The soldier blamed the colonial assemblies for neglect. The assemblies blamed the people at large, where the onus seems justly to lie. For it is proved by several authorities, among whom is Dr. Benjamin Rush, that the townsmen were not pinched but rather were living in a prosperous and well‑fed condition. In their complaisant and ignominious apathy they heeded neither the Revolution nor the suffering soldier. So low did the hungry, footsore, cold tatterdemalions sink in numbers that it was seriously projected,
1776 when they had crossed the Delaware into Pennsylvania, that they retire to Augusta County, Virginia, in order to conduct a lawless, predatory warfare wherever and whenever they could harass the British. Such a course would nominally have ended the Revolution.
To add to the losses by desertion Washington had to suffer from those of defection. Lee who had been left behind in the north did not move after repeated orders from his commander in chief to join the main body. Already he had begun his insidious plotting. Being second in command he felt that, with a little success on his part, say, cutting the British line of retreat in New Jersey, he could supplant Washington. After inexcusable delay he moved out at the speedy rate of •40 miles in 8 days!
1776 While at a farmhouse, •three miles outside his own lines, where he had been engaged in writing disloyal notes to Gates, he was surprised and captured by a few British. The enemy felt that it had spirited away the brains of the Revolution. Nothing could have better promoted coöperation with the commander in chief than the removal of this despicable p35 conspirator, unless, perhaps, Gates had also been taken. As it turned out Stirling,1 next in command, immediately marched to Washington's aid with all dispatch.
Panicked by the British advance through New Jersey, Congress packed its portmanteaus, hoisted its printing press aboard a wagon and fled to Baltimore. There, before any news of Washington's coming successes could reach it, it breathlessly "vested him with full, ample, and complete powers to raise and collect sixteen battalions of infantry . . . to appoint all officers below the rank of brigadier general . . . to take, wherever he may be, whatever he may want for the use of the army." In addition to this plenipotentiary arrangement it allowed him to raise 3,000 light horse, 3 regiments of artillery, and a corps of engineers, and to establish their pay. Congress was not averse in times of great extremity to unloading responsibility on the already weighted shoulders of Washington.
To his lot little beyond the blackest cowardice, desertion and defeat had fallen since the Declaration of Independence. After having been despoiled of means, he was rudely saddled with complete authority. The force at his immediate disposal was not more than 3,300, half of whom were volatile militia. At the existing rate of dissolution ten days more would end the army and make freedom a byword. Under this yoke the heart of a man and the soul of leadership alone changed the course of events. Singly and without show, while shattered and all but forsaken, Washington determined upon an offensive. Since he had collected all the Delaware River boats, he was unassailable until the enemy could construct rafts. His information from patriots in New Jersey showed that the British were scattered throughout the state in small garrisons. Rall was at Trenton with 1,500 men, and Dunlop at Bordentown with a similar number. The Hessians had thrown up no intrenchments and Christmas day would be an occasion of feasting and drunkenness. Besides Sullivan and Gates had joined Washington with their northern reënforcements.
1776 The plan was simple and audacious. Christmas night Gates was to cross the river against Dunlop. Ewing was to cross just p36 below Trenton in order to cut off Rall's retreat, while Washington was to cross •nine miles above the town. Three parallel columns were simultaneously to sally into the enemy's country.
Just one third of the plan was executed. Gates complained of being ill, but was not so indisposed as to be prevented from hastening away in order to intrigue with Congress. Ewing found the river very full of ice and was certain that Washington must have failed in his attempt. The desperate northern column was left to make its way between the floating cakes unassisted. All night long in sleet and darkness Washington and Knox toiled and urged the miniature transports. Not until 3 o'clock was the force safely landed and not until eight did they come in sight of their objective. Drunkenness and overconfidence let the town lie in unpreparedness until the Americans were within musket shot. Otherwise, bereft of a part of his army and delayed by the slow crossing, Washington's shivering soldiers could easily have been scattered, while the Trenton Hessians escaped to Dunlop. As it turned out the Americans took nearly 1,000 prisoners, 6 field pieces, 4 flags and 12 drums with the loss of 2 officers and 1 private wounded. A private described the engagement as follows:
"This morning at 4 a clock we set off with our field pieces, marched •8 miles to Trenton whare we ware attacked by a number of Hushing & we toock 1000 of them besides killed some. Then we marchd back And got to the River at Night and got over all the Hushing."
Nevertheless, this apparently elated diarist refused to be tempted by the $10 extra bounty which Washington, pledging his own private fortune, was compelled to offer the militia as an inducement to stay with the colors for a few days more. Neither was it particularly significant to this patriot that the Americans had taken so many "Hushing" and that there had occurred the first offensive action and real victory of the war. Like many others he drew his wages and bounty money and departed.
1776 Before the remainder could do likewise, Washington recrossed the river into the land of the enemy, and occupied p37 Trenton with not more than 5,000. In the meantime Cornwallis had collected 8,000 trained men at Princeton. Leaving 3 regiments in the town the British commander set out for the American army, arriving within striking distance by nightfall.
Washington was not only compelled to shift his position to the south of the town but was in the same plight in which he found himself at Long Island — deep water in his rear and an overwhelming force in front. This time, however, due to the determined skill of the American leader the little army did not retreat.
1777 At one o'clock A.M., it moved out over the roundabout Quaker Road, leaving 700 men behind to keep the fires burning and to imitate camp noises. It arrived in Cornwallis' rear near Princeton at sunrise when the British brigade of the rear guard was crossing Stony Brook to join the main force near Trenton. Perceiving a small party of Americans (Mercer's men), Colonel Mawhood (English) faced about in order to capture what he estimated to be a few colonial companies. For some time he was successful on account of the superiority of the British bayonet. But suddenly he found himself confronted with Washington and the whole American army which was supposedly •twelve miles away at Trenton. Washington pursued the British regiments as far as Kingston. He made prisoners of 200 cooped in old Nassau, and inflicted a loss of about 400 on other troops. Since his men were too fatigued to carry out the original intention of seizing the stores at Brunswick, and had vastly exceeded their resources in their daring, he camped that night at the Somerset Court House. Jan. 4
1777 The next day he went into winter quarters on the heights of Morristown.
Washington's daring and skill had caused his little force to outnumber that part of the enemy he had attacked. Had he failed in any part of his plan he would have been annihilated and gone down in history as a fool. As it was, when Cornwallis wheeled about, Washington knew that his own superiority had fallen to inferiority. The astute American commander quickly took the defensive.
To this movement he was forced as much on account of the condition of his men as their numbers. Marching in the frigid cold without proper nourishment and uniform, the soldier's p38 sufferings were possibly greater than those at Valley Forge.2 It was estimated by eyewitnesses that the ill‑fed, ill‑clothed, ill‑supplied and exhausted American army could then have been put to flight at Morristown by one well-equipped and drilled battalion.
Obscured by the brilliant skirmishes of Trenton and Princeton, the true situation between the contending forces should not be overlooked. The British in their victorious battles around New York had taken almost as many prisoners as Washington had soldiers in his camp. The untrained, come-and‑go patriot had been an easy prey to the seasoned veterans from abroad. The American had not yet learned to march in the open, under fire and against breastworks. Through lack of discipline and training he was bound to be an easier victim than the soldier who knew what to do instinctively and made offensive action possible.
1777 The treatment of the American prisoners certainly did not stimulate the patriot to try conclusions with the British. Ethan Allen during his incarceration wrote that he had suffered everything short of death. Many others were sharing a like fate. To prevent ill treatment to Lee, Washington informed Howe that every cruel act would meet with retaliation. The mockery of this thoughtfulness is expressed in the fact that Lee at that very hour was concocting plans for the complete overthrow of Washington's army and the American cause.
It is certain, though, that Howe was attempting to make captivity for the "rebels" more distressing than death. The prison ships, Jersey, Hunter, Whitby, Scorpion, Stromboli and Good Hope, were floating "black holes." The hatches and other openings of the crowded traps were so sparse and barred as to make air and light real luxuries. The stacking up of the dead was as regular as sunrise. The highest privilege a prisoner could receive was to go ashore with a burial party. The emaciated bodies were flung into shallow holes in the sand only to be washed by the next storm about the vessel where they floated before the occasional view of the next victims. During the war 10,000 are said to have perished on the Jersey alone.
p39 In the sugar houses and churches of New York, the land prisons of the British, conditions were even worse. Unprincipled overseers are said to have fed the dead and starved the living. The deceased captives, mortifying in their own filth, were often found to have placed in their mouths pieces of stone or plaster, their last hope of nourishment. Very few of the released survived, some dying in their tracks before reaching home.
It is possible that Howe's prison system was one of the principal deterrents to recruiting. It may in part explain the reluctance of the American soldier to reënlist even after being stirred by Tom Paine's Crisis read at the head of each regiment:
"These are times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the service of his country, but he that stands now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
At Morristown those parts of the militia which had with effort been induced to stay on after Trenton were leaving in shoals, taking with them what Government property suited their fancy. After two years of war Washington's whole energy had to be expended in pleading with Congress and the country for an army. He was left with nothing whatever with which to undertake operations. Consequently, the hostilities of the remainder of the winter manifested themselves only in ineffective partisan warfare among New Jersey farmers.
1777 Congress did not increase its prestige by appointing Stirling, Mifflin, Saint Clair, Stephen and Lincoln as major generals, passing over Arnold, the senior brigadier, who had demonstrated more soldierly qualities and leadership than any other general save Washington and perhaps Greene. Dissatisfaction arose among the troops in that their national leader should be so treated. The unjust situation is explained by the fact that Arnold was a friend of Schuyler, and Schuyler, due to Gates' plotting, was persona non grata to Congress.
By March, thanks to the indifference of a well‑fed and erroneously revered population, the force at Morristown had p40 dwindled to less than 3,000, over 2,000 of whom were worthless militia who would depart the next month. Within two‑days' march was a British army of 10,000 trained soldiers which could have taken the Americans with less loss than it was experiencing from the rebel community.
1777 To add to Washington's misfortunes, General Tryon, the royal governor, had landed near Fairfield, Connecticut, and marched to Danbury where he captured more than 1,600 tents and other stores. Generals Silliman and Wooster pursued the British, harassing them at Lexington until Wooster was killed. Arnold, who had been on a visit in the neighborhood, voluntarily led in his impulsive way several hundred militia to the fray. Although he had two horses shot under him he succeeded in inflicting much loss on the escaping British. Congress, forced to recognize him for this exploit, reluctantly made him a major general but did not restore him to his former relative rank.
1777 Finally after four months, the army at Morristown under the act creating 88 battalions came up to a total of about 7,500. Although Washington was able to move out of camp he was not strong enough to undertake an offensive. Selecting a strong position near Brunswick he placed himself between Howe and Philadelphia. Then ensued a series of adroit maneuvers on the part of Howe to entice Washington into giving battle. After three attempts to lure the Americans toward unfavorable ground, during each of which Washington returned to his strong position, June 30
1777 the British took to their boats on Staten Island and sailed Washington knew not where. For two months Howe at sea and Washington on land played at hide and seek. The Americans first moved north as far as Haverstraw on the Hudson, then returned as far south as Philadelphia and had partly retraced their steps northward, when verification of the news that the British were in the Chesapeake Aug. 22
1777 turned them again south.
Although the army had been harassed by marching and countermarching and knew with a vengeance the meaning of locomotion, it did not, while Howe was in obscurity, lose in numbers. Congress had again resorted to the fickle militia, calling out approximately 11,000 from the surrounding states.
1777 When Washington finally marched through Philadelphia with drums beating, the flag of the Union (13 stars and stripes) flying, the generals and their aides all gold and lace riding on frisky mounts, and the "ragged, lousy, naked regiments" carrying burnished arms, the whole force came up to the magnificent total of 11,000 fit for duty.
Before the army travels further, it is necessary to speak of a curious malady — "foreignitis" — which affected it most strangely. The American agents in France had been besieged and besought by European adventurers for commissions in our service. Most of the applicants were without merit or interest in the cause. That Franklin in his Parisian apartments was not deceived by them is evidenced by the closing sentence of one of his replies:
"If, therefore, you have the least remaining kindness for me, if you would not help to drive me out of France, for God's sake, my dear friend, let this your twenty-third application be your last."
Silas Deane was less discerning. He made great promises to trained and untrained alike. In consequence, little foreign migrations waited upon Congress and importuned Washington when he had just been given plenary powers and was in the thick of his troubles after Trenton. In one instance Deane had given Du Courdray a commission as major general of artillery. Knox, as brigadier, and chief of that arm had served successfully for over a year. Greene and Sullivan shook hands with Knox that they would all resign their commissions provided the displacement occurred. Washington, besides, protested against the appointment because he would be saddled with a man whose qualities he did not know and about whom he should have been consulted. Congress was forced to repudiate Du Courdray's commission. But others came who could not be warded off so easily. Upon their advent the junior American officers protested that they themselves were native born, had served from the beginning and were now unfairly "jumped" by a foreigner. The enlisted men detested being ordered about by a titled fellow with a broken accent. This p42 antipathy caused even Canadian officers to be tried and retried on the flimsiest pretexts until many were forced to resign their commissions.
Just as the convalescent can sometimes attribute good effects to certain diseases, so to a few exceptions among the foreigners, without whose aid it is doubtful if America had won the war, the country owes deep gratitude: Steuben, Lafayette, Pulaski, Kosciusko and Du Portail. Of these Steuben by his ability and Lafayette by his affluence, influence and noble attitude were preëminent.
Congress, in bestowing the rank of major general on Lafayette, gave forth these democratic sentiments:
"That in consideration of his zeal, illustrious family and connections he have the rank of major general in the army of the United States."
Nowhere in the history of the Revolution did our lawmakers intimate by the slightest token that there existed such a thing as military technique or efficiency. Family, caste, friendship, favor and politics exempted to be the determining factors in awarding splendid commissions. Arnold, the most brilliant divisional commander of the war, was passed over time after time by incompetents until he finally responded to ill treatment with treason.
Two days after Lafayette's arrival Washington received the news that Howe was in the Chesapeake. The American commander marched south to meet the British, having obtained reliable information by the service of scouts; but finding the opposing force superior, he withdrew to a defensive position north of Chad's Ford across the Brandywine.
1777 Howe tried the same pinching movement he had used at Long Island. This time, however, he changed the relative positions of the thumb and forefinger. Knyphausen moved out over the eastern thumb in order to keep Washington occupied and make him believe he was opposed by the entire force. Howe with Cornwallis made a detour over the long forefinger in order to cross the western forks of the Brandywine and surprise the American flank.
p43 Washington, perceiving the plan, sent Sullivan across the upper reaches of the river in order to keep Howe engaged, while he, Washington, could cross and overwhelm the inferior force of Knyphausen's before help could arrive. Sullivan, without making sufficient reconnaissance, reported that there was no enemy across the river so that he was consequently withdrawn. Shortly afterward the news came to Washington that the whole British army had crossed near the point where Sullivan should have kept the enemy engaged. It was too late for the American army to carry out the original plan. It could not defeat the weak fraction on the thumb while the larger force on the tip of the forefinger was absent. Howe was already hitting Washington on two sides. Sullivan's militia on the right flank gave way like sheep and the rout began. Although Greene came to the rescue and covered the retreat, Washington was forced to withdraw to Chester with losses about equal to those of the British.
1777 Next day he moved north to Germantown, where, upon finding that Howe was still inactive, he prepared to force the issue again. Crossing the Schuylkill he hastened south. Sept. 16
1777 The two armies met at Warwick Tavern where the rain began to fall in torrents. The Americans without rainproof clothing of any kind, in their tight-fitting, uncomfortable, unsuitable garments, were drenched to the skin. Their "cartouch" boxes were soaked through so that all idea of any engagement, other than with bayonet or bow and arrow, vanished. Sept. 17
1777 Washington removed his saturated musketeers behind the Schuylkill near Perkiomen.
Convinced that Philadelphia would soon be in British hands Congress3 again precipitately packed off westward, this time to York. Finding the burdens of war excessive and quite out of hand, it magnanimously passed them over to Washington who was virtually given dictatorial powers within •seventy miles of his headquarters for sixty days. His hands were free to meet the enemy in any way he chose.
Finding that Howe was moving westward along the south bank of the Schuylkill, he attempted along the north bank to keep pace with him. But the disaffection of the Germans and p44 Quakers in that vicinity withheld valuable information, so that, when Howe suddenly wheeled eastward, Washington was not apprised of the fact. The British were across the river and well on their way to Philadelphia before Washington was aware of the countermarch.
At Germantown Howe retained 6,000 men while he scattered the remaining, with the exception of 3,000 in Philadelphia, through New Jersey. As soon as Washington was satisfied of this faulty disposition,
1777 he at once decided to fall upon the inferior force at Germantown and overwhelm it. By setting out at night he would march with four columns along parallel roads, converge and attack simultaneously at dawn. The militia was to close in around the British flanks and cut off its retreat while the continental troops made the main attack in the center. All arrived near their separate destinations, and the plan would have been carried out admirably had not any one of the following occurrences taken place. A dense fog settled over the troops so that •forty feet was the visual limit. The militia on one flank never appeared; on the other, they fired a few random shots over the creek which they were to cross and dispersed. The Chew House in rear of the American objective had been barricaded by five companies of British so that no amount of cannonade, torch flame or rifle fire could dislodge the occupants. General Stephens in a drunken condition led his column off the trail and fired into Wayne's troops. Greene, thinking the firing at the Chew House and in his rear was that of the main body of the enemy, withdrew. A general panic and retreat ensued. Washington was glad to collect all his forces at Skippack Creek by nightfall without the loss of his cannons.
The troops of Washington's army so far had begun and ended their open fighting by running. They had scarcely been present long enough as a whole to be trained to do otherwise. The men had no chance to exhibit their natural courage so long as many of their leaders were ill‑disciplined. General Conway, for instance, was found, during the action at Germantown, resting in a farmhouse. When asked by two field officers why he was not with his brigade, he mumbled a feeble excuse about the indisposition of his horse.
p45 While Washington was impotently beating himself away against Howe in the south, Burgoyne's army in the north was streaming down from Canada in an endeavor to join Clinton so as to separate New England from the remainder of the colonies. Ticonderoga had fallen because Saint Clair had omitted the obvious precaution of seizing a commanding hill. The Americans then retired, leaving no usable article in their wake, so that Burgoyne's army, cutting its way through a denuded wilderness, made slow and difficult progress.
If the British force had been hampered by hardship and disease, the American force had grown thin in addition by desertion. In August 2 Massachusetts regiments had left the northern camp while Washington was gaining recruits in the south. Schuyler's force was decreasing to such an extent that only 4,000 troops remained to him, one third of whom were negroes, boys and old men too aged for field service.
Smallpox, too, as well as "inoculation frolics" had wrought fearful havoc. At that time vaccination was a novel immunity, administered by transmitting the infection from the stricken to the well. In civil life, where people were healthy and comfortably surrounded, this method of transmission of the disease induced no great amount of mortality. The doctor's argument, that more died from the epidemic taken in a natural way than from inoculation while in a healthy condition, seemed to prove itself with the civil population. But when the malady was transported out of its time to the army, consideration was not given to the wasted, exposed, and emaciated condition of the subject. With the soldier, shoes, whole breeches, and overcoats were absent quantities, and hunger ever present. More died from wounds by bacilli than from lead. The doctors in the field became violent spreaders of contagion rather than skillful guardians of health. The remedies of quackery of that age, snakeroot, rum and gentian, distilled earthworms, and lukewarm snail-water added not over much to recovery. In spite of the general's specific orders to the contrary, surgeons so persisted in their pernicious scratchings that they had to be tried by court-martial.
A change in the moral tone of the troops came with the battle at Bennington, Vermont, where in their advance the British p46 had attempted to round up some supplies and had been met and defeated by an overwhelming number of farmers. The victory gave to Schuyler many new recruits. To add to the general revival, Arnold was returning from meeting Saint Leger who had advanced from Oswego to join Burgoyne. By a clever ruse the American commander and his reënforcements had scattered the Canadians, English, and Indians, leaving the valley of the Mohawk cleared of the enemy. His successful 600 would soon lend personal aid to the main body.
Just when Schuyler had successfully built up optimism from depression and was gaining adequate numbers, Congress decided on the brilliant scheme of sending the subtle Gates to take over the northern command. Schuyler received the blow without comment, increased his energies in building up his positions and prepared to meet the enemy descending upon him.
When Gates arrived, although the fruits of victory were ready to be plucked, the new general did his utmost to let them rot on the limb. The American army far outnumbered the British and Kosciusko had skillfully planned the fortifications on Bemis Heights. Nevertheless the British approached the flank of the strong position in such a way as to threaten to enfilade the lines. Gates refused to move, more interested in showing the teamsters an easy way of retreat than in forging ahead into battle. Arnold, realizing the danger of passive resistance, forced his new commander by moral suasion to order the left wing forward. With the expectation of aid to follow, Arnold fell upon the enemy at Freeman's Farm, but was unable to dislodge them. Seeing himself in a disadvantageous position and with no reënforcements, he whirled about and attacked the British center. Even with the odds against him he would have held his own had not British reënforcements arrived. All this time Gates withholding aid from his subordinate had sat behind entrenchments when he could not have helped knowing that his overpowering forces would have routed the British. Even as it was, night fell upon the two armies with more losses to Burgoyne than to Arnold.
Of this engagement Gates sent a report to Congress in which he made no mention of Arnold and his heroic deeds. Schuyler's staff officers having attached themselves to Arnold felt the p47 slight so much that a feud arose which was heightened in bitterness by Gates' inexplicable delay throughout the next eighteen days. Arnold's natural ardor and bravery chafed under such unwarrantable inaction. After one heated argument with his chief he applied for permission to leave the army. When his application was immediately granted, he found himself besought by his officers and men to remain. Gates, however, refused to receive him back so that he occupied a singularly unofficial status without command.
In the meantime Lincoln, after retaking Mount Independence, joined Gates, raising the latter's force to more than twice that of the British. Still Gates sat looking into the distance.
1777 Burgoyne, who had already set October 12 as his limit of time for holding out, determined to force a passage to Clinton farther down the Hudson. Again he attacked the American left. Unable to bear the sight of the American inaction in the face of such an offensive, Arnold, with fury and without authority, rode at the head of his men, who followed him amid cheers. He drove Burgoyne into his camp, repulsed Balcarras and took a strong redoubt, where he ended a day of heroism and victory by being carried from the field wounded. While all this was happening, Gates in his own tent held ethical discourse with a captured British aide as to the merits of the Revolution.
Following much wrangling, during which Gates had learned of the fall of Fort Montgomery and of the contemplated advance of Clinton and during which Burgoyne was in ignorance of these events,
1777 the British surrendered at Saratoga. The victory was credited to a hero who was in reality a dilatory weakling. It belonged to an intrepid, skillful leader who afterwards succumbed to treason.
One soldier in his diary wrote his estimate as follows:
"Arnold was a smart man; they didn't serve him quite straight."
Another characterized him thus:
"A bloody fellow he was. He didn't care for nothing; he'd ride right in. It was 'Come on, boys!' twasn't 'Go boys!' — p48 there wasn't any waste timber in him. He was a stern-looking man but kind to his soldiers. They didn't treat him right — but he ought to have been true."
On the other hand, this remark seems to epitomize another soldier's opinion:
"Gates was an old granny-looking fellow."
This summary seems to be the only surviving camp description of this reclusive warrior.
The country went into hysterics over this first decisive victory. Gates was at once a national hero paramount to all others. Many acclaimed him and denied Washington.
The news of the capture of Burgoyne came as a boon to the ragged, defeated main army at Skippack Creek. The hopes of Washington's command were to a degree revived. But they were also alloyed with the significant knowledge that
1777 Howe had moved into Philadelphia and, with his 20,000 trained troops, was spending his third winter in another large and luxurious American city, this time the capital of the country. As the cold weather came on, desertions in the Revolutionary ranks grew to large proportions. Washington moved to Whitemarsh, where he remained three weeks. Dec. 19
1777 Then he sought winter quarters at Valley Forge.
These first lessons in mobility for the army had been hard and discouraging. Trenton, Princeton and Saratoga were the only visible returns of over a year's effort. Though the first two were brilliant, bold strokes, they were candidly but skirmishes having little bearing on the outcome of the war. Saratoga, then, was the single prize of all this grueling. The British effort to cut the country into two parts had been paralyzed, and a large force had been captured.
On the other hand, the troops from overseas had won Long Island, New York, White Plains, Forts Washington and Lee, the Brandywine and Germantown. As a consequence Howe had moved practically when and where his fancy took him.
In the meantime a prosperous people had begrudged its suffering army a miserly support. Its Congress had fussily p49 pecked at Washington and his following without returning anything palpably constructive. As a body it had rebuked Stark, displaced Schuyler, ignored Arnold, cast aspersions on Greene and Knox, court-martialed Sullivan, Saint Clair, Wayne, and Matthews because they had lost engagements, and ousted Trumbull, the commissary general, so that shoes and clothing lay rotting in hogsheads by the roadside undelivered to the needy troops. But greatest of all, many of the delegates had plotted with the coward Conway against Washington himself. The majority held Charles Lee and Horatio Gates in the highest repute and left the main army to work out its own deliverance at Valley Forge.
1 Sullivan and Stirling had both been exchanged.
3 It had returned from Baltimore.
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