1778 Valley Forge stands as the Gethsemane of American history. It has come to be the national equivalent of vicarious sacrifice. It commonly suggests no other claim for greatness. What hardships our soldiers at other times have endured, and what Valley Forge really accomplished for the United States, are totally eclipsed by records of frozen feet and hungry stomachs close to a comfortable city.
When British took up winter quarters in Philadelphia, Washington put the hills and the Schuylkill between himself and Howe. His army found itself in an undeveloped, wooded country which was so dense that every effort had to be bent on making it fit for existence. The soldiers at once were set to work to cut fuel and such logs as would do for building. Huts were reared, chinked with mud or clay and thatched with straw. Window openings, usually two in number, were closed with oiled paper. The construction of these rude shelters was arranged so that each regiment reaped the result of its own labor and laid out its own street. The brigades, each having two such streets, stretched between Trout Creek and Valley Creek in the shape of a wide V whose point was away from the river.
So scarce was straw, because the farmers refused to haul it, that many roofs were incomplete and many a soldier had to sleep on brush or bare ground.
1777 Washington was compelled to issue a proclamation which made it plain to the surrounding population that the grain would be immediately threshed and the straw sold, or the whole would be taken and paid for as straw. Even then it was almost impossible to carry out the p51 threat because of the lack of transportation. Had not soldiers harnessed themselves to carts of their own making, very little provender of any sort would have been brought into the camp.
To the mismanagement and neglect of the lawmakers and to the apathy and defection of a large part of the civilian population can be justly attributed this unnecessary suffering.
1777 General Mifflin had resigned as quartermaster general. Congress had waited a month before it acted upon his resignation, and then three months before it appointed a successor. In the meantime horses starved to death by the hundreds, and provisions and clothing lay rotting in many places by the roadside. Dec. 22
1777 In Valley Forge there was at one time not a "single hoof of any kind to slaughter, and not more than twenty-five barrels of flour." Feb.
1778 At another, the army went a week without any kind of flesh to eat. When there was any, it was so poor that one wag among the soldiers declared, when he saw a butcher carrying a hindquarter, that it was so thin he could see the latter's breeches buttons through it. Though Washington issued a proclamation ordering the people to have the cattle fattened, it did little good. The soldier was glad to get meat of any quality. His diet was often fire-cake and water for days at a time. The commander in chief in an appeal for aid stated that the soldiers had scarcely tasted vegetables of any kind, had but little salt or vinegar and no proper drink. Along the line of huts in the evening could be heard the cry, "No meat, no meat!" James Thacher, while speaking with Washington in the camp, heard through the chinks in the logs voices exclaiming, "No pay, no clothes, no provisions, no rum!" The following poem addressed to Washington may or may not in its facetiousness have some underlying truth in it:
And for the beef — there needs no puff about it;
In short, they must content themselves without it,
Not that we mean to have them starved — why, marry,
The live stock in abundance, which they carry
Upon their backs, prevents all fear of that!
Even clothing sufficient to cover officers and men was lacking. Lafayette in his memoirs stated that "the unfortunate soldiers were in want of everything; they had neither coats, p52 nor hats, nor shirts, nor shoes; their feet and legs froze until they grew black, and it was often necessary to amputate them." One old soldier, having received a furlough, had to spend two days in cutting up a blanket from which he made a coat and moccasins so that he might undertake the journey home. On December 23 there were 2,898 men unfit for duty on account of lack of shoes and clothing; on February 5 the number had risen to 3,989.
Officers were no better off than the men. One general1 stated that he saw officers at a grand parade "mounting guard in a sort of dressing gown made of an old blanket or woolen bed cover." This same general's aides gave a dinner to which only officers who did not possess a whole pair of breeches were invited. Guests were abundant.
1778 It was probably due to these conditions that Washington recognized the impractical type of clothing of the time and suggested to Governor Trumbull a woolen double-breasted jacket and overalls or trousers. But any clothing would have been satisfactory to the commander in chief, for he said disgustedly, "Perhaps by midsummer, he (the soldier) may receive thick stockings, shoes, and blankets, which he will contrive to get rid of in the most expeditious manner. In this way, by an eternal round of most stupid management, the public treasure is expended to no kind of purpose, while the men have been left to perish by inches with cold and nakedness."
Camp sanitation, under conditions that were insanitary and with soldiers who were ignorant, was almost unknown. Washington reiterated his orders on cleanliness so often that they appear to have grown customary rather than useful.
1778 He showed how carcasses of dead horses lay in and near camp, how offal lay unburied near the commissary stalls and how much "filth and nastiness" lay among the huts. To show his appreciation of contrary conditions, he states that "nothing does or can contribute more to the health of soldiers than a clean camp, clean clothes and victuals well-dressed." However, in huts unprovided with chimneys, poorly ventilated and crowded beyond capacity, where the smarting smoke from the cooking mingled p53 with the stench of the unbathed bodies and where the mass of occupants was suffering with itch and scurvy, it is not surprising that virulent diseases abounded.
Such hardships among undisciplined men were natural forerunners of every sort of absenteeism. The knowledge that warm houses contained sleek men with paunches, who spoke loftily of "the cause" but casually forgot the colonies' defenders, did not spread a feeling of patient endurance.
1778 To a considerable distance from the camp the countryside was filled with straggling soldiery. The death penalty for desertion was rarely inflicted; and the next heavier, 100 lashes, was in no wise a deterrent. March 26
1778 A Tory stated that 1,134 deserters had come into Philadelphia and given themselves to the enemy.
1778 Passes into the city had to be forbidden. Officers granted leaves and furloughs so promiscuously that Washington was compelled to arrogate those powers to himself. Through the loose detached service methods a company's rolls were no indication of who was in camp. In one case where 12 men were marked "present," they were truthfully accounted for as follows: one, as valet to a commissary, had been •200 miles away from the army for 18 months; another as valet to a quartermaster, had been absent in the north for 12 months; and the remainder as drivers of carriages, bakers, blacksmiths, carpenters and coal porters had been gone for years. Officers themselves left their organization on flimsy pretexts and many were captured through their own folly or carelessness. So, for one reason or another, Washington's army by March was reduced to 4,000 fit for duty against an enemy of 20,000.
Congress, at a safe distance from possible activities, could not understand why Washington did not drive the British from Philadelphia. He was met with everything from mild lack of confidence to downright abuse. John Adams, who never strayed far from the comforts of civilization, gave it out that he was "sick of Fabian systems . . . and weary with so much insipidity." Such sentiments soon grew to be those of the civilians in general. Few of those in power visited the camp to see for themselves the suffering and dwindling of the left army, and few others were directly interested in the deplorable conditions forced on these defenders of liberty. Yet the urge of the "stay-at‑homes" p54 grew apace and by no means increased the morale of the officer and soldier.
Into this unhappy situation there suddenly came a fortune as great as it was unforeseen. There was bestowed upon our ragged troops the greatest gift that they could have received — the gift of discipline. That automatic obedience to authority, which transforms crowds into units, had previously been noticeably lacking. Its absence had often caused brave men to exhibit themselves as cowards. But now in this dark hour it fell providentially from the hands of a foreigner so that the troops began to function as an army, and Valley Forge became a Pentecost instead of a Gethsemane.
Curious fact! this new stamina was imparted by a Prussian; and more curious still, by a Prussian who, because he lived before the days of Prussianism, suited the genius of the American soldier exactly. Lafayette had brought zeal, soldiers and money, but von Steuben brought efficiency, an efficiency he tempered with energy, tact and kindness.
We must remember that von Steuben had come from the court of the great Frederick, the Frederick who despised the German tongue and persisted in employing French customs and language exclusively. Von Steuben had been an aide on that versatile leader's staff. He combined the thoroughness of German drill and training with French adroitness and imagination.
1777 He told Congress that he had come to serve "a nation engaged in the noble enterprise of defending its rights and liberties." He asked only to have his necessary expenses defrayed while in the service and to be reimbursed for the loss of his own income only in case the cause was successful.
1778 On arrival at Valley Forge he was shocked to see the distress of the forces. He was surprised to find no uniform drill, no similarity of organization and no team work of any kind. He observed afterwards that he had found more quartermasters and commissaries in the camp than in all the armies of Europe together.
In spite of the fact that his French cook took French leave the minute the kitchen facilities — one camp kettle under a tree — were pointed out, and that the Baron was compelled from then on to lead a life of Spartan frugality and discomfort, he p55 set in motion at once the business of organization, discipline and training. For Washington, having recognized Steuben's particular merits, had not waited for Congress to act but had immediately appointed him as inspector.
Rising at three in the morning, smoking his pipe and drinking his cup of coffee, Steuben proceeded to the parade ground, where he personally taught drill movements. He would illustrate the manual of arms by using the musket in his own hands. Such a democratic demonstration shocked the higher officers who were still imbued with the British idea of aristocratic aloofness. But Steuben's tact and his sensible dealings made even the cavalier see the fruitlessness of trusting everything to the noncommissioned men. Steuben forced the discovery that in a country where caste is obnoxious an officer must gain results by more direct means. Accordingly there was established that dignified contact between officer and soldier wherein respect is engendered by fairness and ability.
At first the new inspector was particularly struck with the attitude of the officers. He said "the captains and colonels did not consider their companies and regiments as corps confided to them by the United States for the care of the men as well as the preservation of order and discipline. The idea they had of their duty was that the officers had only to mount guard and put themselves at the head of their regiment or company when they were going into action." He forthwith organized the officers into squads, sections and companies for drill under his personal direction. In this way he raised up an excellent corps of instructors. Some time after this plan had been in operation he beheld a colonel instructing a recruit, whereupon he exclaimed, "I thank God for that!"
He was instrumental in having a guard of honor for the commander in chief augmented. The order is significant.
"Headquarters, Valley Forge,
"March 17, 1778.
"One hundred chosen men are to be annexed to the guard of the commander in chief, for the purpose of forming a corps, to be instructed in the maneuvers necessary to be introduced into the army, and to serve as a model for the execution p56 of them. As the general's guard is composed of Virginians, the hundred draughts will be taken from the troops of the other states.
"Description of the men.
"Height, •from 5 feet 8 to 5 feet 10 inches; age, from twenty to thirty years; robust constitution, well limbed, formed for activity, and men of established character for sobriety and fidelity. They must be Americans born."
Taking particular pains with these, Steuben succeeded in presenting to the whole army a concrete example of the proper evolutions. Since drill then was the largest part of the training, the service performed shed its helpful influence on many later military events.
His drill regulations show his good sense and humanity. On them are based all subsequent ones in our service, and by them long-needed exercises were put in vogue for the first time. He reduced the number of motions for loading to fifteen. He prescribed a uniformity of arms and accouterments throughout the army. He formed the "company in two ranks at one pace distance, with the tallest men in the rear" . . . and "the shortest men in the center." He divided the company into two sections or platoons and the regiment into eight companies. He split regiments of more than 160 privates into two battalions. He assigned to the flank companies the most experienced officers actually present with these units.2 He established such a sensible "position of the soldier without arms" that for hygienic reasons alone many of its features might with advantage be used to‑day. "He (the soldier) is to stand straight and firm p57 upon his legs, with his head turned to the right so far as to bring the left eye over the waistcoat buttons; the heels •two inches apart; the toes turned out; the belly drawn in a little, but without constraint; the breast a little projected; the shoulders square to the front and kept back, the hands hanging down to the sides, with the palms close to the thighs." He introduced a "common" step of •24 inches and a cadence of 75 to the minute, which seemed to suit the rugged country, the heavy accouterments, the dense lines and slow firing with which the soldier then struggled.
The march in general had been limited to crude formations in line and column of files. Steuben not only made these movements uniform, but added the column of platoons, thus lessening the unnecessary length of road space for tactical movement and the opportunity for straggling.3 He caused the platoon to wheel much as it does now in "platoon right" and to execute the "oblique step" in order to break from, and form, company. The latter was a curious sidling movement in which the soldier stepped off to the right or left oblique while he kept his "shoulders square to the front." But the evolutions themselves were quite simple. For instance, at the preparatory command, "Take care to display column to the left," all understood that the column of platoons was to form line to the left front. At the second command, "To the left — face!" all except the leading platoon faced to the left. At the third command, "March!" all the rear platoons obliqued to their places where their commanders halted them and dressed them to the right. The sagacity with which he made every man in ranks an integral part of the drill is illustrated by the way he discarded sole dependence upon music or the beat of the drum, and made each individual soldier responsible that he regulated his march by watching the gait of the officer or element in front of the platoon. Whenever there was no such officer or element, a sergeant was to be placed six paces to the front. Such were some of the sensible drill movements (which in those days were battle movements also) that Steuben found useful.
Knowing, however, that drill was valueless without the p58 discipline of daily routine, he went minutely into field and company administration. He prescribed that troops should camp by battalions. He allowed sinks to be dug no nearer to occupied tents than •300 feet. He charged field officers with seeing that their camps were pitched regularly and properly, especially that kitchens and sinks were put in sanitary places. He outlined methods of getting wood and water by means of an organized system of signals and formations. He established roll calls of "troop" and "retreat" under arms and the "reveille" and "noon" without arms. He charged the noncommissioned officers with the making of an accurate check of their squads at tattoo to see that the men were in bed. At the "troop beating" he required company officers to "inspect into the dress of their men," to "see that the clothes are whole and put on properly, their (the soldiers') hands and faces washed clean, their hair combed, their accouterments properly fixed and every article about them in the greatest order." He inaugurated the Saturday-morning inspection which the captains were to conduct for their individual companies in order to "examine into the state of the men's necessaries."
If his technic was simple and fitting, his application of it was just and human.
Let us quote from his regulations, in use at Valley Forge, and afterwards published in 1779 under the authority of Congress, the first standard set of regulations for our army:
A Captain cannot be too careful of the company the state has committed to his charge. He must pay the greatest attention to the health of his men, their discipline, arms, accouterments, ammunition, clothes and necessaries.
His first object should be to gain the love of his men by treating them with every possible kindness and humanity, inquiring into their complaints, and when well founded, seeing them redressed. He should know every man of his company by name and character. He should often visit those who are sick, speak tenderly to them, see that the public provision, p59 whether of medicine or diet, is duly administered, and procure them besides such comforts and conveniences as are in his power. The attachment that arises from this kind of attention to the sick and wounded is almost inconceivable; it will, more, be the means of preserving the lives of many valuable men.
He should endeavor to gain the love of his men, by his attention to everything which may contribute to their health and convenience. He should often visit them at different hours; inspect into their manner of living; see that their provisions are good and well cooked, and as far as possible oblige them to take their meals at regulated hours. He should pay attention to their complaints, and when well founded, endeavor to get them redressed; but discourage them from complaining on every frivolous occasion.
The ensign is in a particular manner charged with the cleanliness of the men, to which he must pay the greatest attention.
When the company parades, and whilst the captain and lieutenant are examining the arms and accouterments, the ensign must inspect the dress of the soldiers, observing whether they are clean, and everything about them in the best order possible, and duly noticing any who in these respects are deficient.
He must be very attentive to the conduct of the noncommissioned officers, observing that they do their duty with the greatest exactness; that they support a proper authority, and at the same time do not ill treat the men through any pique or resentment.
Here is the golden text of all leadership — his "first object should be to gain the love of his men by treating them with every possible kindness and humanity." Such consideration p60 Steuben immediately couples with the duty of infinite care of the company that the state has committed to the charge of the captain. Then the vital advice of individual treatment — of knowing every man by name and character — is all too well understood by any one who has ever attempted to handle manhood in the mass. And finally the special vision of the sick rounds out the thoughtful attitude a company officer should school himself to employ. When analyzed, this simple paragraph spells self-control, high sense of duty, fidelity of performance and loyalty to the inferior as well as to the superior.
Knowing full well that the captain could not, without specific help, bring his company up to standard, Steuben assigned the subalterns particular tasks. The lieutenant was to be zealous in regard to the "health and convenience" of the soldier, and the ensign in regard to "neatness and cleanliness." Steuben here discreetly laid emphasis on the development of self-respect and pride, qualities which are the leading strings of success. Then he capped the whole by setting a check upon ill treatment which arises through "pique or resentment." Understanding how partiality and prejudice may be the ruin of discipline, he closed his instructions by putting a special guard on that sort of injustice.
Steuben spent much time in developing a keen sense of responsibility in the company officer in comparison to that of the field and general officer. He knew that if the individual soldier had affection and regard for his immediate leaders, the higher commands would take care of themselves. He realized that the pride and bearing of the rank and file were the keynotes to achievements in the field, as was demonstrated many times in the World War.
Could any set of instructions more grippingly embrace the essentials of discipline? Have so few words ever more perfectly tempered kindness with justice and balanced rule and appeal? By following these simple principles, could not any body of men, whether soldier or civilian, be directed without friction? Why, then, were these doctrines omitted from later regulations? Why did they have to be ferreted out from a dusty volume whose leaves were yellowed with age and whose print was in old script with its "s's" that looked like "f's"?
p61 Mainly because training, as we shall see, was discarded for a long time after the Revolution, did the true picture of Steuben grow indistinct. Naturally only the rigors of necessary discipline were remembered in connection with him. He has thus been tabled in later years as a hard taskmaster. Legislators have held his work up to contempt in that he early molded our army into Prussian inflexibility. The substance of such an attitude seems to rest on the fact that he hailed from Prussia. By the same argument objection was once made to Christ on the ground that he came from Nazareth. Writers and speakers have been erroneously thankful that the army has survived Steuben's hard lines whereas, in truth, he brought us up out of unsuitable aristocracy, unspeakable chaos and, above all, the misuse of authority. He knew that leading was better than driving and he proved that his human methods were practical and successful.
Painted from life by Ralph Earl.
Frederick von Steuben
That he followed his own advice is shown by many instances. For example, once after Arnold's treason, when Steuben was standing by listening to the roll call of a company, he heard a man answer to the name of Arnold. Promptly inviting the soldier to his tent, the baron told the private that he was too good a man to bear a traitor's name, whereupon he gave him permission to be known as Steuben.
Due to such painstaking care and labor, the festering camp began to take on the semblance of order and organization in spite of the lack of supplies. Disease was lessened. Arms remained with the colors.4 Soldiers on detached service as servants were returned to the fighting force. Officers began to father their organizations. The human touch, zeal and dignity that have since characterized the best American leaders became noticeable. Troops began to be complimented in orders on their drill.
1778 By taking the attitude that the "indifferent quality of clothing instead of excusing slovenliness and unsoldierly conduct, ought rather" to excite each man to compensate for those deficiencies by redoubled attention to his personal appearance, Steuben was successful in building morale upon less than nothing.
So a foreigner with such a thick brogue that he was largely unintelligible, against odds of national and provincial jealousy and notwithstanding the powerful calumny that was usually heaped upon the efficient friends of Washington, earned a substantial reputation. His work could not be ignored. Congress was morally forced to recognize him.
1778 Accordingly Washington's orders one day announced to the camp that von Steuben had been made a major general and inspector general of the army.
We are soon to see some of the direct effects of his efforts.
The spirits of the little army that strove with its emaciated self in pitiful efforts at training were unexpectedly raised by the news of the French Alliance.
1778 Washington proclaimed a holiday. The ragged, but clean, soldiers had a chance to show on parade their new and well-acquired maneuvers. The commander in chief dined in public with his officers; cannons were discharged, fusees were fired, toasts were drunk and huzzas were given by the officers and men with great ceremony. The form and precision here displayed heightened the pride of corps throughout the rank and file.
1778 Out of this alliance came the necessity of giving Lafayette a command, for which he had been constantly begging. Washington assigned him 2,500 picked men ostensibly for the purpose of conducting a reconnaissance toward Philadelphia. At Barren Hill this small but vital American force found itself completely surrounded by an overwhelming number of British. The only means of possible escape was the apparently impassable Schuylkill in the patriots' rear. A ford, however, was accidentally discovered over which the troops would have to pass rapidly while pressed by the enemy. This highly difficult crossing was to be a test of discipline in the American soldiers. As a matter of fact, they were formed by their officers without hesitation or confusion, were marched across the stream without crowding and were well on the way before the British discovered the escape. The drill and training acquired under Steuben were chiefly accountable for the survival of Lafayette and his command.
With the coming of spring and the prospect of help there came internal relief for the army. Food and clothing grew p63 better, almost sufficient. Greene, at the solicitation of a committee from Congress, had been appointed quartermaster-general to succeed Mifflin.5 Jeremiah Wadsworth had, in addition, been made commissary general. Their services were efficient, though Congress and the country accused them of extravagance. The troops fared for over a year following their appointment better than at any time previous, and there were fewer recorded complaints. As Washington had predicted, summer saw the soldier at last provided with heavy clothing.
When Howe decided to sail back to England without hurting the American army in the field and Clinton relinquished Philadelphia, Washington, leaving Arnold in that city, pursued the British through New Jersey. Having now the usual increase of "sunshine patriots" he outnumbered the enemy by 1,000.
1778 At Monmouth Court House the advance guard of the Americans came upon the rear guard of the British. Washington ordered Lee to attack with the help of getting the enemy's wagon train. Evidently through jealousy or defection Lee not only failed to carry out his commander's intentions, but was actively responsible for the breaking up of the troops and their retirement to the rear. Although they were pursued by the British and, though lack of proper leadership, retreated in more or less disorder, nevertheless they were capable of being reformed quickly into a proper battle line, after what would formerly have been a demoralizing retreat. Again the work of Steuben became the deciding factor. The Americans having rallied, drove off the British. But the defeat of Clinton's forces was impossible, because the day had been cleverly wasted by Lee. The enemy slipped away under cover of darkness to New York. The temperature throughout the action had been very high, reaching, some say, •ninety‑six, so there were more casualties from the heat than from firearms. Soldiers were found dead without a mark on them. In the north this was the last general engagement of the war, because the British were too strong for Washington to take the offensive again. But the action showed that the American troops with a fair amount of discipline and training and against nearly an equal force, could give a good account of themselves.
The next attempted offensive in New England was conspicuously impotent. General Sullivan had collected 10,000 New England militia and untrained troops for the purpose of taking Newport. Washington, besides, had sent him Lafayette with 2,000 men and allowed him 4,000 French troops. With a force between 13,000 and 15,000 he was to overwhelm the British garrison of 6,000.
1778 When he moved over to Butts' hill a storm tore down the tents, killed some horses, wet the powder and discomfited the men. Aug. 20
1778 Many of the militia forthwith went home. Finally Sullivan began the investment of the city. But the French fleet refused to coöperate, whereupon the militia deserted so fast that Sullivan and Greene6 felt they would soon have no force at all. Aug. 29
1778 Sullivan returned to Butts' hill where the British attacked. The remaining Americans, among whom was a black regiment under Colonel Christopher Greene, fought well from behind earthworks; but they finally had to withdraw from the island.
In the "far west" near Pittsburgh another part of the army, though small, was preparing to do a great service for the country. Lieutenant Colonel George Rogers Clark, with 150 men, set out to take what are now Kentucky, Illinois and parts of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio away from the British, hostile Indians and the French. After hardships, similar to those of Arnold in his march to Quebec and far worse than those of Valley Forge,
1778 Clark succeeded in capturing without bloodshed. When 80 men left him because of the expiration of their enlistments, he simply recruited young Frenchmen of the neighborhood and hung on. By a combination of apt arrogance and soft words that prevented a struggle, he won over the whole of the Illinois country, including Vincennes. Although that town was shortly retaken by a superior force of British, he made an unexpected winter march, Feb. 25
1779 and by a well-planned attack with exhausted troops recaptured the place. After reading Roosevelt's Winning of the West one is convinced that this little campaign ranks as a combination of suffering and daring ahead of anything of the kind in history. For these men moved to their goal so fast that huts were impossible. The harsh winter p65 found them digging fresh holes in the snow each night, caught them often advancing waist-high in mud and ice water for hours at a time, and saw them ever alive to the terror of the lurking tomahawk. Clark finally won the "Old Northwest" for the United States, and was promoted to the grade of brigadier-general.a
1778 The Indian massacres in northern Pennsylvania and southern New York drew other expeditions. General Sullivan with 2,500 men moved up from Easton, Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna to Elmira, New York. July
1779 At the same time he sent Colonel Brodhead with 600 men up the Allegheny from Pittsburg and General James Clinton with 1,500 men along the Mohawk Valley and the upper reaches of the Susquehanna. The purpose was that of terrorizing the Indians and destroying their crops, villages and warriors. It was felt that the protection of the settlers had to be gained at any cost, so that women and children among the redskins sometimes suffered the fate of the men. Such a mission was distasteful to the officers and baneful to the soldiers. The callous coating left upon the patriot's mind is revealed by an incident quoted from a lieutenant's diary:
At the request of Major P–––––, sent out a small detachment to look for some dead Indians — returned without finding them. Toward morning they found them and skinned two of them from their hips down for boot-legs, one pair for the Major, the other for myself."
The object was achieved with great thoroughness.
1779 Sullivan's army returned to New Jersey after a difficult march of •over 700 miles.
After Monmouth the main army took up winter quarters at White Plains.
1778 Later Washington placed 7 brigades at Middlebrook and Elizabethtown and 6 at West Point. This winter, due to its mildness and to Greene and Wadsworth, seems to have found the army in better condition with regard to clothing, food and shelter than ever before. But the soldiers were ragged, and officers in general were in a destitute condition. Sept.
1778 Congress did not gain many recruits by allowing Washington p66 to offer secretly $10 extra bounty. Those who left the army, even after the bounty of $80 and half pay for seven years (that Congress had previously offered and that the soldier rarely got) did not give glowing accounts of their military life. The militia went home to find that the civilian did not feel the war at all. It was this splendid heedlessness on the part of the public rather than the hardship of camp that disgusted the soldier. Washington said in a letter to Harrison:
1778 "If I were to be called upon to draw a picture of the times and of the men, from what I have seen, heard, and in part know, I should in one word say that idleness, dissipation and extravagance seem to have laid fast hold of most of them; that speculation, peculation and an insatiable thirst for riches seem to have got the better of every other consideration, and almost every order of men."
Naturally the patriot said, "Why should I suffer and die for such people?" Had the states actually given good food and clothing, recruiting would have been successful without any bounty. As it was, the country profiteered, bankrupted itself and gave Washington no proper force.
In the south, the taking of Savannah by the British did not raise the spirits of the army.
1778 After that occupation, Lincoln took command in Charleston. With about 3,600 ill‑disciplined men the new southern commander tried to advance to the Savannah River. But his force, made up principally of raw recruits, fled whenever hardship or the enemy were to be encountered and in those dense regions became disorganized raiding parties. In minor engagements Colonel Moultrie drove off the British from Port Royal Island and Colonel Pickens scattered some loyalist guerrillas. Feb.
1779 When Lincoln moved on Augusta, his 1,500 troops under General Ashe were surrounded by the British and practically annihilated. Apr.
1779 But the English crossed the Savannah and drove Moultrie back to Charleston, who seems to have had a difficult time in keeping the enemy from getting the city. The following extract from one of his letters throws light on some of his experiences:
1779 "As the enemy was so near, I was desiring one of my aides to go and bring off our rear guard from Coosohatchie to join us immediately; but Colonel John Laurens (who joined me two days before) being present, he requested me to permit him to go on that service; which I readily consented to, thinking him to be a brave and experienced officer; I told him at the same time that I would send 150 good riflemen to cover his flanks, lest the enemy should be too close upon him; I accordingly sent Capt. James with one hundred and fifty picked men, and 100 men of the out piquet to join him; these altogether made a body of 350 men, which was one‑fourth of my little army; but instead of Colonel Laurens' bringing off the guard, as he was desired, he very imprudently crossed the river to the east side; and drew them up on the opposite bank of the river, taking those 150 who were sent to cover his flanks, and the 100 men of the out piquet and joined them to the guard; while he left the houses on the hill for the British to occupy; in this situation did he expose his men to the fire, without the least chance of doing them any injury; after remaining some time he got a number of men killed and wounded; and was wounded himself; he desired Capt. Shubrick, who commanded after he left the field, to stay a little longer and then to bring off the men; had not Capt. Shubrick moved off at the very instant that he did, his party would have been cut off from their retreat and every man of them would either have been killed or taken prisoner; we heard the firing very distinctly at Tullifiny, and supposed it was our retreating guard coming in; but presently Col. Laurens came up to me, wounded in the arm; I said to him: 'Well, Colonel, what do you think of it?' 'Why, sir,' said he, 'your men won't stand.' Upon which I said; 'If that be the case I will retreat.' "
Between official ignorance and troop inconstancy General Moultrie had his troubles. His resolution and thrift, however, saved the city. Then the southern army went into summer quarters at Sheldon.
In the north, Washington, on account of the dearth of everything needful for campaign, could undertake but desultory offensives.
1779 Wayne with a small force and rare bravery captured p68 Stony Point with the bayonet. But Clinton with a superior force later took it back. Aug. 19
1779 Then "Light Horse Harry Lee"7 captured 200 of the enemy at Paulus Hook where Jersey City now stands, and the military work in the north was ended.
1779 In the south D'Estaing suddenly appeared off Savannah and began a siege of the city. Lincoln joined him in these operations. When the French commander found that he had to put to sea, a premature assault was decided upon. But the British, having been apprised by a deserter of the plans of the allies, drove them off with great loss. Oct. 8
1779 What was left of the little southern army made its way safely across the river, Oct. 19
1779 but the whole of the country south of Charleston passed into the hands of the British.
1779 The main army in the north was again ill‑supplied with clothing. Congress recommended to the states that they provide clothes for their own soldiers, and voted to the officers one "suit" consisting of one hat, one watch coat, one body coat, four vests, four pairs of breeches, four shirts, four stocks, six pair of stockings and four pairs of shoes. But this pretentious outfit was not provided. Later, clothing arrived from France but there was not enough. General Glover wrote:
1779 "The whole army has gone into winter cantonments excepting General Nixon's and my brigades, who are now in the field (eight hundred of my men without shoe or stocking) enjoying the sweets of a winter campaign while the worthy and virtuous citizens of America are enduring the hardships, toils and fatigues incident to parlors with good fires and sleeping on beds of down."
Although Congress had offered $200 to a recruit to enlist for the period of the war, and one of the states had reached $750, a suit of clothes once a year and •one hundred acres of land,
1779 Washington's force scarcely totaled 26,000 effectives. He himself says:
"That of this number, comprehending four hundred and ten invalids, fourteen thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight p69 are stated as engaged for the war; that the remainder by the expiration of enlistments, will be decreased by the 31st of December, two thousand and fifty‑one; by the last of March, six thousand four hundred and twenty‑six; by the last of April, eight thousand one hundred and eighty‑one; by the last of June, ten thousand one hundred and fifty-eight — and shortly after twelve thousand one hundred and fifty-seven."
1779‑1780 This winter was spent by the main army at Morristown, New Jersey. For suffering it was worse than Valley Forge. The pay was far in arrears. A large proportion of soldiers had no suitable covering at night and often the whole army went for five or six days without even bread. The cold was so severe that for forty days at the other camp near West Point no water dripped from the roofs.
While the northern troops were suffering at Morristown and West Point the southern troops were being pressed in campaign.
1780 Sir Henry Clinton with Cornwallis and 10,000 men landed from New York below Charleston. The little force of American regulars and volunteers in that city should have tried to escape and save itself. April 11
1780 But Lincoln, not realizing his powerlessness, as one more skilled in the art of war might have done, let himself be surrounded. May 12
1780 When Fort Moultrie fell, he saw that it was useless to hold out and surrendered the city with 5,000 men. The entire south now belonged to the enemy.
There the colonists confined themselves to partisan strife. Sumter on the Catawba and Broad rivers, Marion among the Peedee swamps and Pickens and Clark along the Saluda made a predatory warfare on all Tories. The actions were bloody and useless.
In the meantime Knyphausen in the north, having been left in command of New York by Clinton when the latter went south, misinterpreted the attitude of mind of the impoverished American soldier.
1780 He crossed into New Jersey in the hope of winning over some of the army at Morristown by promises of comfort. But the Whig patriot was not so easily influenced. Although he might grumble at a greedy and neglectful populace that would cheerily let him starve, he despised the Tory with an ingrained hatred. Accordingly the militia all along Knyphausen's p70 march made it very uncomfortable for the British so that he was forced to return to New York.
When Clinton arrived back from Charleston and heard of the fate of Knyphausen's expedition, he himself determined to attack Morristown.
1780 Greene, however, blocked the roads so successfully when the British approached the town, that he stemmed the advance. Although he was finally forced to retire, the American troops acted with such precision that Clinton had to content himself with the burning of Springfield and to return to New York. Here again was a recovery due mainly to the teaching of Steuben.
A new commander in the south was necessary since the fall of Charleston. Washington desired Greene to have the post, but Congress appointed Gates, "the hero of Saratoga."
1780 The new commander took over a force of about 2,300 men at Hillsboro that had been operating under De Kalb. Of these, 900 had never been in action and were ignorant of the use of bayonets. Aug. 13
1780 Gates sat still for a couple of days until Cornwallis had time to reënforce Rawdon and then set out to meet the enemy. The forces engaged near Camden. Gates seems to have made no reconnaissance, no estimate and no definite plan. He allowed the poorest militia to be placed opposite the best trained veterans of the British. It was natural that the former fled at the first onset and thereby left the American regulars to be cut to pieces in their tracks. Gates disappeared so fast that he reached Charlotte •sixty miles away that night. The smaller British force had killed, wounded and captured about 2,000 Americans, whereas it had lost barely 300. This battle or rout was the most disgraceful defeat of the war. The Revolutionary southern army had vanished.
The northern army in the vicinity of Tappan, N. Y. (near the New Jersey state line), had practically evaporated also. Not only had the expiration of enlistments taken place, as Washington had foretold, but the men had deserted by the hundreds, many to the British.
1780 In addition to the few regulars trained under Steuben, only that militia which came out solely to protect its own fireside remained. This small band had so little to eat that it practically had to live off the country.
The following order issued in another northern camp reveals p71 the pathetic attempt of the remnants to preserve order and discipline in the face of the last act of the tragedy of this dark year.
"Orange Town, Sept. 26, 1780.
"The truly martial appearance of the Troops yesterday, the order and regularity with which they made the different marches, and the facility with which they perform'd the several manoeuvers, do them the greatest credit, and open the most flattering prospect of substantial service to the country, and military glory to the Army.
"Nothing can be more pleasing to the Officers who feel for the honor of the Army, and the Independence of America, than to see the rapid progress which has been made by the Troops in military discipline. The good conduct of all the officers yesterday, gave the Gen'l the highest satisfaction and the particular service of the Inspector-General,8 and those in that line, deserve his especial thanks.
"Treason of the Blackest Dye was yesterday discovered. General Arnold, who commands at West Point, lost to every sentiment of honor, of private and public obligation, was about to deliver up that important Post into the hands of the enemy. Such an event must have given the American cause a deadly wound. — Happily the Treason was discover'd in time to prevent this fatal mischief. The providential train of circumstances which led to it, affords the most convincing proof that the Liberties of America are the object of Divine Protection. Our enemies, despairing of carrying their point by force, are practising every base art to effect, by bribery and corruption, what they cannot accomplish in a manly way.
"Great honor is due to the American Army that this is the first instance of Treason of the kind, where many were to have been expected from the nature of the dispute; and nothing more brightly ornaments its character, than the firm resistance with which it has constantly met the seductions of an insidious enemy. Arnold has made his escape to the enemy; but Mr. p72 Andre, the Adjutant-General of the British Army, who came out as a spy to negotiate the business, is our Prisoner!
"His Excellence the Commander in Chief has arriv'd at West Point from Hartford, and is no doubt taking the proper measures to unravel fully so Hellish a plot."
1780 The letters of Washington and the French officers show that they despaired at this time of the independence of the states. The only redeeming feature of the year was the partisan battle of King's Mountain in the south. Campbell, McDowell, Shelby and Sevier surrounded Ferguson and killed, wounded and captured about 900 with little Whig loss. But this small affair was little compensation for the fall of Charleston, the defeat of Camden, the plunder of the country, the treason of Arnold and the lack of an army.
Nevertheless the war had to be pressed in the south or southern states would be lost. Greene, who had resigned as quartermaster-general,9 on account of new organization which permitted corruption, was sent to succeed Gates.
1780 He took command of 2,300 men at Charlotte, 1,110 of whom were regulars. Dec. 2
1780 All the wagons had been lost, there was not a dollar in gold in the whole force and the naked soldiers were living after the manner of animals. But if his army was worn down and he was confronted by Cornwallis, Rawdon and Tarleton, he yet had Steuben, Morgan and Kosciusko to depend upon.
While Greene was trying to bring the southern military patient to life, the remnants of the northern army were trying to reconcile the inequality of the bounty, the complete absence of pay and the utter contempt for the soldiers' agonies. Some states were offering as high as $1,000 per man over the sum provided by Congress. Such lavishness gave to the unstable militiaman, who served only for a short time, almost a fortune in contrast to the pittance allowed but seldom given to the Continental who stayed on year after year and suffered all manner of tortures.
1781 Accordingly, six regiments of the Pennsylvania line reached the limit of their endurance. Instead of deserting as the militia had done, they rose to press their long series of grievances.
p73 After an officer had been killed in the attempt to restore order, the rioters marched toward Princeton with an "astonishing regularity and discipline." Wayne, who was in command at Morristown, was allowed to accompany them. Congressional representatives finally pacified them by promising to make up the arrears in pay, and to give each soldier a pair of shoes, overalls and a shirt. That the legislators felt themselves properly on the defensive is shown by the fact that they readily agreed to bring no one to trial for the outbreak.
The mutineers refused to accept bribes from General Clinton who offered them every consideration if they would come into the British service, but rather gave his representatives up to be shot as spies.
1781 At this time the reduction of the Continental army and is reorganization went into effect. Just when soldiers of this character were most pressingly needed, Congress through lack of funds was forced to cut down their number. Officers were to choose among themselves who should be retired. The establishment was to consist of "4 regiments of mounted and dismounted dragoons, or legionary corps; 4 regiments of artillery; 49 regiments of infantry; — and 1 regiment of artificers." An infantry regiment was to consist of 612 files, exclusive of officers, sergeants and musicians. The officers displaced as well as those who remained were to have half pay10 for life.
1781 The New Jersey line, hearing of the apparent success of the Pennsylvanians, decided to mutiny also. One night at Pompton Colonel Shreve, suspecting their feelings, ordered his men to fall in, but only a few obeyed him. They then marched toward Chatham and after having much debate with the state commissioners, returned to Pompton. Jan. 27
1781 In the meantime, the American General Howe with his brigade had arrived by Washington's order from West Point. At daybreak the mutineers found themselves surrounded. Howe ordered them into ranks without arms, executed two of the leaders on the spot, rebuked the rest and the mutiny was over.
While the northern army was in the throes of organization and disorganization, some of Greene's troops were having p74 activity in the south. Cornwallis sent Tarleton to capture Morgan's inferior force which at this time was separated from Greene. Morgan took up a position near Hannah's Cowpens with an unfordable river in his rear. This curious selection he explains as follows:
"I would not have a swamp in the view of my militia on any consideration; they would have made for it and nothing could have detained them from it. — As to retreat, it is the very thing I wished to cut off all hope of. I would have thanked Tarleton had he surrounded me with his cavalry. It would have been better than placing my own men in the rear to shoot down those who broke from the ranks. When men are forced to fight they will sell themselves dearly."b
This true hero of Saratoga had learned to know the militia. He placed the really raw ones very far in front and told them that all he expected of them was to fire two volleys. Then they could run as usual and as they would do anyway, but they must run in a certain direction around the flanks. He showed them the path they should follow and warned them not to disturb the good regulars in rear. Then he apprised the remaining troops of the outlined flight so that there would be no misunderstanding as to its meaning. The militia did not quite get through with their volleys but they did go where they were told and formed again in time to help complete the discomfiture of Tarleton.
1781 This ingenious adaptation of tactics to human weaknesses caught the superior British force between two fires and completely routed it. Out of its total of 1,150 men, 784 were killed, wounded or captured against 11 Americans killed and 61 wounded. Tarleton himself barely escaped with his life.
Congress was forced to recognize Morgan11 with a medal.
1781 Greene at this time was following Cornwallis whom he met later at Guilford Court House (Greensboro, N. C.). The southern army of 4,400 men was composed of raw militia and p75 of regulars who had never been in action. Greene's dispositions were similar to those of Morgan just described, but Cornwallis fought more carefully than Tarleton and Greene's troops were physically and mentally poor. The battle lasted five hours with much slaughter on both sides. During the long strain many Americans dropped exhausted from lack of food. Greene himself fainted when the action was all over.
Although it was an apparent victory for the British, Greene pursued the victor until the Virginia militia refused to go any further because their time had expired.
1781 In the meantime Lafayette, whom Congress had assigned the task of capturing Arnold, had been marching his 1,200 American veterans up the Delaware and down again in the hope of seizing his prey. In one of his marches north, Washington gave him command of the army of Virginia which had lately been made and put under Steuben. Before going south to take over that force, April 29
1781 Lafayette put shoes and clothing on his men by issuing drafts on the French treasury. When he arrived in Richmond, he found the Virginia army in a good state of discipline under Steuben who placed himself under his youthful commander's orders without hesitation and with the utmost loyalty. But Lafayette's command, although good in quality, was so small that it had to spend its time during the summer in dodging the strong British forces.
1781 Greene, farther south, fought an indecisive action with Rawdon at Hobkirk's Hill. Marion, "Harry" Lee and Sumter managed to drive the British out of the up‑country of the Carolinas with the exception of Ninety‑six, April 23
1781 which Greene besieged. When Rawdon brought British reënforcements, Greene had to raise the siege and take his men into summer quarters on the High Hills of the Santee. The heat now was too intense for either army.
1781 Because Lafayette's force was "not strong enough even to be beaten," he could be well pleased at his success in merely keeping out of the way of Cornwallis. But when that British commander retired to Williamsburg and later to Yorktown with 7,000 men, Lafayette sent Wayne to keep Rawdon from reënforcing Cornwallis. His idea of keeping the British separated was, as we shall see, most appropriate.
1781 Greene simultaneously decided to carry the war into the enemy's country and forthwith marched toward Eutaw Springs. Sept. 8
1781 When the British retired from that place, he vigorously attacked and drove them from the field with great loss. But the undisciplined American militia in pillaging the British camp drank so much rum that they were useless on the counterattack of the enemy. Eutaw Springs was retaken. In extenuation it may be said that many of Greene's soldiers were so naked that they had to tie pieces of moss on their shoulders and sides to keep the firelocks and cartridge boxes from chafing the skin.
of 1781 Three things happened now which gave Washington a plan and a hope. The administration of the army became more sound under a civilian superintendent of finance instead of a Board of Treasury; a clothier general operating under the superintendent, Robert Morris, began to get clothing for the troops; and De Grasse wrote that he was sailing for the Chesapeake with 25 ships. Washington secretly decided to bottle up Cornwallis. He collected in that country between the Bronx and Dobb's Ferry, the French from southern New England and the Americans from the Highlands, as if to lay siege to New York. Then he marched to Sandy Hook, having written to the various governors of his contemplated attack on New York. He was well on his way to Philadelphia before his intentions were suspected.
At that place Rochambeau gave the troops $20,000 in gold which bought them many necessaries and raised their spirits. At the Head of Elk in Maryland they were joined by the French who were surprised at the large number of ragged soldiers among the Americans. From there and from Annapolis the rest of the journey was made by boats. The allies with 8,800 Americans, 7,800 French and a French fleet of 20,000 sailors and 2,000 guns invested Yorktown, while Cornwallis, who could have escaped, calmly watched the process.
In the meantime Clinton in New York sent Arnold to harass New England in order to call some of Washington's troops away from the south. But Washington was not so easily turned aside. Arnold, however, pressed the New Londoners. How they responded can be inferred from the following extract from Colonel Hemstead's diary:
1781 "Soon after our arrival, the enemy12 appeared in force in some woods •about half a mile S. E. of the Fort, from whence they sent a flag of truce, which was met by Capt. Shapley, demanding an unconditional surrender, threatening, at the same time, to storm the Fort instantly, if the terms were not accepted. A council of war was held, and it was the unanimous voice, that the garrison was unable to defend themselves against so superior a force. But a militia Colonel was then in the fort, and had a body of men in the immediate vicinity, said he would reënforce them with two or three hundred men in fifteen minutes, if they would hold out; Col. Ledyard agreed to send back a defiance, upon the most solemn assurance of immediate succor. For this purpose Col. ––––– started, his men being then in sight; but he was no more seen, nor did he even attempt a diversion in our favor."
The taking of New London, however, was quite useless to the British as long as Clinton did not directly reënforce Cornwallis. Yorktown was bound to fall with the French odds alone so great against the town. But Lieutenant Feltman in his journal was not altogether pleased with the conduct of American troops:
1781 "Page 20. 15th Oct'r. '81. . . . The enemy threw a number of shells this day and wounded a great number of men, especially the militia; several were wounded this day in their sleep, such is the carelessness of those stupid wretches who are not acquainted with the life of a soldier."
1781 Yorktown capitulated without more glory to our army than that the siege was conceived by Washington and aided by American troops. Had not the French outfitted them with clothing and shoes, it is doubtful if they could have been present at the capture, except in the nude. Had not the French had an overwhelming amount of men and materials, it is certain Yorktown could not have been captured before Clinton could have aided Cornwallis.
p78 But those American soldiers who had been through the training at Valley Forge gave good accounts of themselves at the siege. Many a life was saved by Steuben's discipline and training and many lost for lack of them.
When it was all over "Light Horse Harry" Lee made this tragic lament:
"Convinced as I am that a government is the murderer of its citizens which sends them to the field uninformed and untaught, where they are to meet men of the same age and strength, mechanized by education and discipline for battle, I cannot withhold my denunciation of its wickedness and folly."
How pathetic, in this story of men willing to brave death for those at home that those at home responded by killing through neglect more of them than did the enemy!
This ghastly truth apparently failed at this time to make any impression upon the public, for training and discipline in the intervals between calamities are going to be thrust down. Pervasive medicine, applied to war, is about to be a thought foreign to the public mind. Unready youths are going to be fed by the government into the flaming breach as helpless babes before the burning mouth of Moloch.
2 The order from right to left was: first captain, colonel, fourth captain, major, third captain, lieutenant colonel, fifth captain, second captain.
The establishment of 1778 allowed to each battalion of infantry 477 privates with pay at $6.66 per month; artillery, 336 matrosses at $8.33 per month; cavalry, 324 dragoons, $8.33 per month; provost, 43 provosts or privates, $8.33 per month; three companies in the engineering department, each to have sixty privates at $8.33 per month. A regiment of infantry had 1 colonel (who was also a captain), 1 lieutenant colonel (also captain), 1 major (also captain), 6 captains, paymaster, adjutant, quartermaster, 1 surgeon, 1 surgeon's mate, 8 lieutenants, 9 ensigns, 1 sergeant major, 1 quartermaster sergeant, 27 sergeants, 1 captain lieutenant (over the colonel's company), 1 drum major, 1 fife major, 18 drums and fifes, 27 corporals, 477 privates: in all 585.
3 Marching and wheeling by fours or squads did not come into vogue until many years later, after the Civil War.
4 During the next year, 1779, only twenty firelocks disappeared in contrast to the thousands missing before Steuben came.
5 Greene was allowed to retain his line commission.
6 General Nathaniel Greene.
8 Von Steuben.
9 Timothy Pickering, President of the Board of War, succeeded him.
10 This they never received. But Greene was successful in having some of the ousted ones placed in command of militia organizations.
11 At Saratoga, Morgan had been as brave and successful as Arnold. But Congress had treated him almost as badly as the latter.
12 The British under Arnold.
a Clark's first-hand account of his campaign, although a short book easily read in two hours, is one of the most interesting and instructive source documents onsite, and should be required reading for anyone charged with leading American soldiers: The Conquest of the Illinois.
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