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cutting off all communication between the latter and the surrounding country. The enemy's strength, including marine forces, was estimated at about twelve thousand; that of the Americans, present and fit for duty, thirteen thousand seven hundred, or including the sick and absent on leave, sixteen thousand seven hundred. With this number, Washington had to guard a semicircle of eight or nine miles, to every part of which he found it necessary to be equally attentive; whilst the enemy, situated as it were in the centre of the semicircle, and having the entire command of the water, could bend their whole force against any one part with equal facility. Several circumstances, however, concurred to render the American forces very inadequate to active operations. Many of the soldiers were ill-provided with arms, particularly with bayonets; and the general soon became acquainted with the alarming fact, that the quantity of powder in the camp would only supply nine rounds to each man. Much distress was also occasioned by the want of tents and clothing. The urgency and continuance of these wants were increased by causes which General Washington thus stated in a letter to Congress: "I should be extremely deficient in gratitude as well as justice, if I did not take the first opportunity to acknowledge the readiness and attention which the Congress and different committees have shown to make every thing as convenient and agreeable as possible; but there is a vital and inherent principle of delay incompatible with military service in transacting business through such various and different channels. I esteem it my duty, therefore, to represent the inconvenience that must unavoidably ensue from a dependence on a number of persons for supplies, and submit it to the consideration of Congress whether the public service will not be best promoted by appointing a commissary-general for that purpose."
The fact that no such officer had been appointed, and that the army wanted a paymaster and a quarter-master-general, will give some idea of the labours and difficulties to which the general was subjected. The want of arms and ammunition was one which it was extremely difficult to supply. A successful voyage was, however, made to the coast of Africa, where every pound of gunpowder for sale in the British factories was purchased, and a magazine was seized in the island of Bermudas.
The absolute importance of a maritime force now began to be extensively felt throughout the country, and this sentiment was daily increased by the aggressions of British ships of war, whose commanders had received orders from the king to proceed against
any sea-port towns where troops might be raised, or military work erected. Under these directions, a small naval force arrived before Falmouth, in Maine, commanded by Captain Mowatt, who, on his arrival, gave notice that he was directed to burn every sea-port town between Boston and Halifax, and demanded of the inhabitants all their arms and ammunition, and four of their citizens as hostages. This order being of course refused, a furious cannonade and bombardment was commenced, by which the whole town was speedily reduced to ashes. This brutal measure may be said to have originated the American navy. Ships of war were immediately fitted out, and, at the urgent suggestion of General Washington, courts were established to take cognisance of prizes, whose proceedings were conducted on the soundest principles of international law.†
In September, 1775, a committee of Congress was appointed, who repaired to head-quarters for the purpose of consulting with the commander-in-chief" on the most effectual method of continuing, supporting, and regulating the army." On their return, it was determined by Congress, that the new army, intended to lie before Boston, should consist of twenty thousand three hundred and seventy-two men, whose officers were to be raised chiefly from the troops already stationed there. There was one result of the report of this committee, and the deliberations of the Congress upon it, which, for years, entailed the most pernicious and embarrassing effects, and which was nearly fatal to the cause of American independence.
The members of this body had suddenly sprung into political importance. Their practical knowledge of the means of conducting a war was, in general, as scanty as their notions of political justice, and their spirit of freedom and patriotism were exemplary. Their caution, as was natural, increased with the peril of their cause, until, in this particular instance, it realized the proverbial effect of fear, by creating a danger almost as serious as any which it strove to avoid. The example of a Cromwell, afforded by the annals of their ancestors, and of a host of military despots, supplied by universal history, inspired in their minds a fear, lest, having thrown off the restraints of the parent government, their liberties should fall a prey to the ambition of a military faction, whose power would unquestionably exceed that of any other portion of the community. After the ample opportunities they had had of
* No orders were issued by the British ministry for the destruction of these towns. †See Washington's Writings, vol. iii. 155.
acquainting themselves with the character of Washington, it is next to impossible that these fears should have had reference to him; certain it is, however, that they extensively prevailed, and dictated the measure which perpetually thinned the numbers, and relaxed the discipline of their army. This great error consisted in enlisting soldiers-not for the duration of the war, but—for the term of one year only. Its lamentable consequences will be seen hereafter.
As soon as the measure was determined on, the general issued his orders, that all officers who intended to decline the further service of their country at the expiration of the term for which they were engaged, should signify their intentions, in writing, to their respective colonels; and "those brave men and true patriots who resolved to continue to serve and defend their brethren, privileges, and property," were also requested to signify their intentions in the same manner.
But the comparative inactivity of the army, as it lay before Boston, engaged in strengthening its position, with now and then an inconsiderable skirmish, allowed time for that ardor to cool, which had been so gloriously evinced at Lexington and Bunker Hill. Many were unwilling to continue in the service after the brief term of their first enlistment. Some consented under inadmissible conditions; while some suspended their decision.
The general, therefore, repeated his orders for an explicit and unconditional declaration. "The times," said he, "and the importance of the great cause we are engaged in, allow no time for hesitation and delay. When life, liberty, and property are at stake; when our country is in danger of being a melancholy scene of bloodshed and desolation; when our towns are laid in ashes, and innocent women and children driven from their peaceful habitations, exposed to the rigor of an inclement season, to depend, perhaps, on the hand of charity for support;-when calamities like these are staring us in the face, and a brutal, savage enemy (more so than ever was found in a civilized nation) are threatening us, and every thing we hold dear, with destruction from foreign troops, it little becomes the character of a soldier to shrink from danger, and condition for new terms. It is the general's intention to indulge both officers and soldiers who compose the new army, with furloughs, for a reasonable time; but this must be done in such a manner as not to injure the service, or weaken the army too much
In this state of things, several officers, supposing that commis
sions and rank might depend on recruiting men, began, without permission, to enlist soldiers to serve particularly under them. This practice it was necessary to stop. All further enlistments under particular officers were forbidden, till directions to that effect should be given. "Commissions in the army," say the orders, ❝are not intended for those who can raise the most men, but for such gentlemen as are most likely to deserve them. The general would not have it even supposed, nor our enemies encouraged to believe, that there is a man in his army (except a few under particular circumstances) who will require to be twice asked to do what his honour, his personal liberty, the welfare of his country, and the safety of his family, so loudly demand of him. Where motives powerful as these, conspire to call men into service, and when that service is rewarded with higher pay than private soldiers ever yet received in any former war, the general cannot, nor will not, until convinced to the contrary, harbour so despicable an opinion of their understanding and their zeal for the cause, as to believe they will desert it."
At the same time that General Washington urged these appeals upon the troops, he communicated his sentiments with equal earnestness to Congress.
"The disadvantages," he observed, "attending the limited enlistment of troops are too apparent to those who are eye-witnesses of them, to render any animadversions necessary; but to gentlemen at a distance, whose attention is engrossed by a thousand important objects, the case may be otherwise. That this cause precipitated the fate of the brave, and much-to-be-lamented General Montgomery, and brought on the defeat which followed thereupon, I have not the most distant doubt; for had he not been apprehensive of the troops leaving him at so important a crisis, but continued the blockade of Quebec, a capitulation, from the best accounts I have been able to collect, must inevitably have followed. And that we were not at one time obliged to dispute these lines, under disadvantageous circumstances, proceeding from the same cause, to wit, the troops disbanding of themselves before the militia could be got in, is to me a matter of wonder and astonishment, and proves, that General Howe was either unacquainted with our situation, or restrained by his instructions from putting any thing to hazard, till his reinforcements should arrive.
"The instance of General Montgomery (I mention it because it is a striking one, for a number of others might be adduced) proves, that, instead of having men to take advantage of circumstances,
you are in a manner compelled, right or wrong, to make circumstances yield to a secondary consideration. Since the 1st of December, (upwards of two months previously,) I have been devising every means in my power to secure these encampments; and though I am sensible that we never have, since that period, been able to act upon the offensive, and at times not in a condition to defend, yet the cost of marching home one set of men, bringing in another, the havoc and waste occasioned by the first, the repairs necessary for the second, with a thousand incidental charges and inconveniences which have arisen, and which it is scarcely possible either to recollect or describe, amount to nearly as much as the keeping up a respectable body of troops the whole time, ready for any emergency, would have done. To this may be added, that you never can have a well-disciplined army.
"To bring men to be well acquainted with the duties of a soldier, requires time. To bring them under proper discipline and subordination, not only requires time, but is a work of great difficulty, and, in this army, where there is so little distinction between officers and soldiers, requires an uncommon degree of attention. To expect, then, the same service from raw and undisciplined recruits, as from veteran soldiers, is to expect what never did, and perhaps never will happen. Men who are familiarized to danger, meet it without shrinking; whereas, troops unused to service often apprehend danger where no danger is. Three things prompt men to a regular discharge of their duty in time of action; natural bravery, hope of reward, and fear of punishment. The two first are common to the untutored, and the disciplined soldier; but the last most obviously distinguishes the one from the other. A coward, when taught to believe, that, if he breaks his ranks and abandons his colours, he will be punished with death by his own party, will take his chance against the enemy; but a man who thinks little of the one, and is fearful of the other, acts from present feelings, regardless of the consequences.
"Again, men of a day's standing will not look forward; and from experience we find, that, as the time approaches for their discharge, they grow careless of their arms, ammunition, and camp utensils. Nay, even the barracks themselves have felt uncommon marks of wanton depredation, and lay us under fresh trouble and additional expense in providing for every fresh set, when we find it next to impossible to procure such articles as are absolutely necessary, in the first instance. To this must be added,