Revolutionary War

 

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Revolutionary War SoldiersAmerican Revolutionary War; To most people, war between England and the American colonies appeared inevitable as early as 1774. All through the summer of that year Samuel Adams described this as his belief. Joseph Hawley, of Massachusetts, submitted to the delegation from his colony, in the First Continental Congress, some wise "hints," which started with : "We must fight, if we cannot otherwise rid ourselves of British taxation. There is not heart enough yet for battle," and, " Constant and a sort of negative resistance to government will increase the heat and blow the fire. There is not military skill enough. That is improving, and must be encouraged and improved, but will daily increase. Fight we must, finally, unless Britain retreats." When John Adams read these words to Patrick Henry, the latter exclaimed, "I am of that man's mind!" All the summer and fall of 1774 the people, impressed with this idea, began having military exercises, especially in Massachusetts. The people prepared for war. The Provincial Convention of Massachusetts appropriated $60,000 for war preparations, and experienced soldiers from the French and Indian War were recruited to be officers of the militia. Mills were erected for the manufacture of gunpowder, and establishments were set up for making drills. Encouragement was given to the production of saltpeter, which was needed for the manufacture of gunpowder. In December, 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress authorized the enrolment of 12,000 minutemen. Very soon there was an invisible yet enthusiastic army of determined patriots, ready to confront any further coercion from Great Britain.

Towards the close of 1774 the King issued a proclamation prohibiting the exportation, from Great Britain, of military supplies. As soon as the proclamation reached America it created great agitation. Preparations were made for the manufacture of military supplies. The Assembly of Rhode Island passed resolutions for securing arms and military supplies. Forty cannon were removed from the battery at Newport, that they might not be used by the government authorities. At Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a similar movement had taken place. Paul Revere had been sent there expressly, by a committee at Boston, with the King's order and an account of the proceedings of a meeting in the New England capital. On the following day about 400 men went to Castle William and Mary, at the entrance to Boston Harbor, took control of it, broke open the powderhouse, and hauled away more than 100 barrels of gunpowder. Governor Hutchinson having reported that the military power was insufficient in Massachusetts, because no civil officer would sanction its employment, the crown lawyers decided that such power belonged to the governor; and Lord Dartmouth, secretary of state for the colonies, ordered General Gage, in case the inhabitants should not obey his commands, to bid the troops to fire upon them at his discretion. He was assured that all trials of officers or troops in America for murder would, by a recent act, be removed to England.

The bloodshed at Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775), stirred the colonies as never before. There was a spontaneous resolution to surround Boston with an army of Provincials that should confine the British to the peninsula.  New Hampshire voted 2,000 men, with Folsom and Stark as chief commanders. Connecticut voted 6,000, with Spencer as chief and Putnam as second. Rhode Island voted 1,500, with Greene as their leader; and Massachusetts voted 13,600 men. From the hills and valleys of New England the patriots went out by the hundreds, armed and unarmed, and before the close of the month —in the space of ten days—an army of 20,000 men were forming camps and piling fortifications around Boston, from Roxbury to the river Mystic. The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, with Joseph Warren at its head, worked day and night. They appointed military officers; issued bills of credit for the payment of the troops to the amount of $375,000, and declared (May 5) General Gage to be an enemy of the people. As the news of the Battle of Lexington and Concord went from colony to colony, the people in each were equally aroused. With the hottest haste, it did not reach Charleston, S. C., under twenty days. Arms and ammunition were seized in various places by the Sons of Liberty; provincial congresses were formed, and, before the close of summer, the power of every royal governor from Massachusetts to Georgia was utterly destroyed. Everywhere the colonists armed in defense of their liberties, and made preparations for their security.

When the Congress had decided on armed resistance in the late spring of 1775, the pulpit, the bar, and the press united in encouraging the people to be firm in their opposition. The clergy of New England were a zealous, learned, numerous, and widely influential group of patriots. They connected religion and patriotism, and in their prayers and sermons represented the cause of America as the cause of Heaven. The Presbyterian synods of New York and Philadelphia sent out a letter which was read in all their churches. This recommended such sentiments and conduct as were suitable to the situation. Publicists and journalists followed the preachers, and exerted a powerful influence over the minds of the great mass of the colonists. The legal fraternity denied the charge of rebellion, and proved the justice of the resistance of the Americans. A distinction founded on law was drawn between the King and Parliament. They contended that the King could do no wrong, and upon Parliament they charged the crime of treason for using the royal name in connection with their own unconstitutional measures. The phrase of a "ministerial war" became common, and the colonists pledged loyalty to the crown until the Declaration of Independence

Lord North had scruples concerning harsh American measures which the King did not possess, and, wearied with the dispute with the Americans, showed symptoms of a disposition to make concessions. The majority of the cabinet were as mad as the King, and when they found North wavering they plotted to have him displaced to make room for a more thorough supporter of British authority. On Jan. 12, 1775, at a cabinet council, he found the current of opinion so much against him that, ambitious of place and power, he yielded. His colleagues declared there was nothing in the proceedings of Congress that afforded any basis for an honorable reconciliation. It was therefore resolved to break off all commerce with the Americans; to protect the loyalists in the colonies; and to declare all others to be traitors and rebels. The vote was designed only to divide the colonies. It united them and kindled a war. There was, how-ever, a strong minority in the British Parliament who were anxious for reconciliation between Great Britain and her American colonies from the beginning of the dispute. In the House of Commons, Edmund Burke introduced a bill (Nov. 16, 1775) repealing all the offensive acts and granting a amnesty as to the past, thus waving the points in dispute. Burke supported the bill with one of his ablest speeches, but it was rejected by a vote of two to one. On the contrary, a bill was carried by the ministry (Dec. 21) prohibiting all trade with the thirteen colonies, and declaring their ships and goods, and those of all persons trafficking with them, lawful prize. The act also authorized the impressment for service in the royal navy of the crews of all captured colonial vessels; also the appointment of commissioners by the crown, with authority to grant pardon and exemption from the penalties of the act to such colonies or individuals as might, by speedy submission, seem to merit that favor. So the door of honorable reconciliation was closed.

The camp of the Continental army at Cambridge, when George Washington took command of it in July, 1775, presented a curious and somewhat picturesque spectacle. There was no conformity in dress. The volunteers from Rhode Island were lodged in tents, and had more the appearance of regular troops than any of the others; others were quartered in Harvard College buildings, the Episcopal church, and private dwellings; and the fields were dotted with lodges of almost every description, varying with the tastes of their occupants. Some of them were constructed of boards, some of sail-cloth, and some partly of both. There were huts of stone and sods, others of bushes, while a few had regular doors and windows, constructed of withes and reeds. To these the feminine relatives of the soldiers—mothers, sisters, wives—were continually repairing with supplies of clothing and gifts for comfort. With them came flocks of boys and girls from the surrounding country, to gratify their curiosity and behold some of the mysteries of war. Among the soldiers in the camp might be seen eminent and eloquent ministers of the Gospel, acting as chaplains, keeping alive the habit of daily prayer and of public worship on the Sabbath. Having no sufficient force at home to send for the subjugation of the colonies early in 1775, and as mercenaries from the Continent could not be immediately pro-cured, the King ordered Dunmore, governor of Virginia, to arm negroes and Indians, if necessary, to crush the rebellion in that colony. To Dunmore 3,000 stand of arms, with 200 rounds of powder and ball for each musket, together with four pieces of light artillery, were instantly shipped. An order was also sent directly, in the King's name, to Guy Johnson, agent among the Six Nations, to seek immediate assistance from the Iroquois Confederacy. "Lose no time," so ran the order; " induce them to take up the hatchet against his Majesty's rebellious subjects in America. It is a service of very great importance; fail not to exert every effort that may tend to accomplish it; use the utmost diligence and activity." Johnson was promised an ample supply of arms and ammunition from Quebec.

As early as the summer of 1776, intimations reached the Americans that the British ministry had devised a grand scheme for dividing the colonies, and so to effect their positive weakness and easy conquest. It contemplated the seizure of the valleys of the Hudson River and Lake Champlain, and the establishment of a line of military posts between the mouth of the Hudson and the river St. Lawrence, and so, separating New England from the rest of the union, easily accomplish the subjugation of the whole. To effect this, English and German troops were sent both to the St. Lawrence and to New York in the spring and summer of 1775. It was the grand aim of the expedition of Burgoyne southward from the St. Lawrence in 1777. To counteract this movement, the Americans cast up strong fortifications in the Hudson Highlands, and kept their passes guarded. It was in anticipation of such a scheme that the colonists made the unsuccessful attempt to win Canada either by persuasion or conquest. See CANADA.

When, in 1778, it was ascertained that there were hundreds of American prisoners of war in England, enduring great sufferings for want of the necessaries of life, a subscription was made by the friends of the Americans in Great Britain, which speedily gave them relief. At that time there were 900 of them suffering in British prisons. A subscription started in London soon procured about $2,000, which was more than sufficient to relieve the immediate wants of the captives. These wants consisted chiefly in a lack of sufficient clothing.

As the year 1780 drew to a close there were warm disputes in the Pennsylvania regiments as to the terms on which the men had been enlisted. The officers maintained that at least a quarter part of the soldiers had enlisted for three years and the war. This seems to have been the fact; but the soldiers, distressed and disgusted for want of pay and clothing, and seeing the large bounties paid to those who re-enlisted, declared that the enlistment was for three years or the war. As the three years had now expired, they demanded their discharges. It was re-fused, and on Jan. 1, 1781, the whole line, 1,300 in number, broke out into open revolt. An officer attempting to restrain them was killed and several others were wounded. Under the leadership of a board of sergeants the men marched towards Princeton, with the avowed purpose of going to Philadelphia to demand of the Congress a fulfillment of their many promises. General Wayne was in command of these troops, and was much be-loved by them. By threats and persuasions he tried to bring them back to duty until their real grievances should be re-dressed. They would not listen to him; and when he cocked his pistol, in a men-acing manner, they presented their bayonets to his breast, saying, " We respect and love you ; you have often led us into the field of battle; but we are no longer under your command; we warn you to be on your guard; if you fire your pistol, or attempt to enforce your commands, we shall put you instantly to death." Wayne appealed to their patriotism; they pointed to the broken promises of the Congress. He reminded them of the strength their conduct would give to the enemy; they pointed to their tattered garments and emaciated forms. They avowed their willingness to support the cause of independence if adequate provision could be made for their comfort; and they boldly re-iterated their determination to march to Philadelphia, at all hazards, to demand from Congress a redress of their grievances. Finding he could not move them, Wayne determined to accompany them to Philadelphia. At Princeton they presented the general with a written list of their demands. These demands appeared so reasonable that he had them laid be-fore Congress. That body appointed a committee to confer with the insurgents. The result was a compliance with their demands, and the disbanding of a large part of the Pennsylvania line, whose places were filled by new recruits.

When Sir Henry Clinton heard of the revolt of the Pennsylvania line, mistaking the spirit of the mutineers, he dispatched two emissaries—a British sergeant and a New Jersey Tory named Ogden—to the insurgents, with a written offer that, on laying down their arms and marching to New York, they should receive their arrearages and the amount of the depreciation of the Continental currency in hard cash; that they should be well clothed, have a free pardon for all past offences, and be taken under the protection of the British government; that no military service should be required of them, unless voluntarily offered. Sir Henry requested them to appoint agents to treat with his, and adjust terms; and, not doubting the success of his plans, he went to Staten Island himself, with a large body of troops, to act as circumstances might require. Sir Henry entirely misapprehended the temper of these mutineers. They felt justified in using their power to obtain a redress of grievances, but they looked with horror upon the armed oppressors of their country, and they regarded the act and stain of treason, under any circumstances, as worse than the infliction of death. Clinton's proposals were rejected with disdain. " See, comrades," said one of them, " he takes us for traitors; let us show him that the American army can furnish but one Arnold, and that America has no truer friends than we." They seized the emissaries, and delivered them, with Clinton's papers, into the hands of Wayne, and they were tried, condemned, and executed as spies. The reward which had been offered for the apprehension of the offenders was tendered to the mutineers who seized them. They sealed the pledge of their patriotism by nobly refusing it, saying : "Necessity wrung from us the act of demanding justice from Congress, but we desire no reward for doing our duty to our bleeding country."

On January 18, 1781, a portion of the New Jersey line, stationed at Pompton, followed the example of the Pennsylvanians, at Morristown, in refusing to serve longer unless their reasonable demands on Congress were attended to. Washington, fearing the revolt, if so mildly dealt with as it had been by Wayne, would become fatally infectious and cause the army to melt away, took harsher measures to sup-press it. He sent General Robert Howe, with 500 men, to restore order at Pompton. They surrounded the camp and compelled the troops to parade without arms. Two of the ringleaders were tried, condemned, and immediately executed, when the remainder quietly submitted. These events had a salutary effect, for they aroused the Congress and the people to the necessity of more efficient measures for the sup-port of the army, their only reliance in the struggle. Taxes were more cheerfully paid; sectional jealousies were quelled; a special agent (John Laurens) sent abroad to obtain loans was quite successful, and a national bank was established in Philadelphia and put in charge of Robert Morris, the superintendent of the treasury.

Count de Rochambeau received intelligence at the close of May, 1781, that the Count de Grasse might be expected on the coast of the United States with a powerful French fleet in July or August. This news caused the French forces, which had lain idle at Newport many months, to move immediately for the Hudson River, to form a junction with the Continental army there under Washington. A part of them moved on June 10, and the remainder immediately afterwards. They formed a junction with the American army, near Dobb's Ferry, on the Hudson, July 6. The Americans were encamped on Valentine's Hill, in two lines, with the right wing resting on the Hudson River near the ferry. The French army was stationed on the hills at the left, in a single line, reaching from the Hudson to the Bronx River. There was a valley of considerable extent between the two armies. The American army had been encamped at Peekskill, and marched down to Valentine's Hill on the morning of July 2.

In August, 1781, a French frigate, from the fleet of De Grasse in the West Indies, brought word that he would sail directly for the Chesapeake Bay. Already Washington had had his thoughts turned towards a campaign of the allies against Cornwallis in Virginia by a letter from Lafayette, who had taken a position only 8 miles from Yorktown. The marquis had plainly perceived the mistake of Clinton in ordering Cornwallis to take a defensive position in Virginia. As early as July he wrote to Washington from Randolph's, on Malvern Hill, urging him to march into Virginia in force, saying, " Should a French fleet enter Hampton Roads, the British army would be compelled to surrender." Foiled in his plan of attacking New York, Washington anxiously contemplated the chance of success in Virginia, when his determination was fixed by a letter from Admiral de Barras (the successor of Admiral Ternay, who had died at Newport), which contained the news that De Grasse was to sail for the Chesapeake at the close of August with a powerful fleet and more than 3,000 land troops. De Barras wrote: " M. de Grasse is my junior; yet, as soon as he is within reach, I will go to sea to put myself under his orders." Washington at once made ample preparations for marching into Virginia. To prevent any interference from Clinton, he wrote deceptive letters to be intercepted, by which the baronet was made to believe that the Americans still contemplated an attack upon New York City. So satisfied was Clinton that such was Washington's design, that, for nearly ten days after the allied armies had crossed the Hudson (Aug. 23 and 24) and were marching through New Jersey, he believed the movement to be only a feint to cover a sudden descent upon the city with an overwhelming force. It was not until Sept. 2 that he was satisfied that the allies were marching against Cornwallis. On the arrival of a body of Hessians at New York, he had countermanded an order for the earl to send him troops, and for this he was now thankful. On Sept. 5, while the allies were encamped at Chester, Pa., Washington was informed that De Grasse had entered Chesapeake Bay. In that event he saw a sure prophecy of success. De Grasse had moored his fleet in Lynn Haven Bay, and so barred the entrance to the York River against reinforcements for Cornwallis. He had landed 3,000 troops on the peninsula, near old Jamestown. Meanwhile De Barras had sailed for Newport with a fleet convoying ten transports laden with ordnance for the siege of Yorktown. The British admiral, Graves, on hearing of the approach of the French fleet, had sailed for the Chesapeake. De Grasse went out to meet him, and on Sept. 5 they had a sharp engagement. The British fleet was so shattered that it retired to New York, leaving De Grasse master of the Chesapeake. When Clinton was assured that the allies were bound for Virginia, he tried by military movements to call them back. He menaced New Jersey; threatened to attack the works in the Hudson Highlands ; and sent Arnold on a marauding expedition into New England. But neither Clinton's men-aces nor Arnold's atrocities stayed the on-ward march of the allies. They made their way to Annapolis, and thence by water to the James River in transports furnished by De Barras. From Baltimore Washington, accompanied by Rochambeau and the Marquis de Chastellux, visited his home at Mount Vernon, from which he had been absent since June, 1775. There they remained two days, and then journeyed to Williamsburg, where they arrived on the 14th. There the allies rendezvoused, and prepared for the siege of Yorktown.

The defeat of Cornwallis seemed to prophesy speedy peace, yet Washington wisely counseled ample preparations for carrying on the war. He spent some time in Philadelphia in arranging plans for the campaign of 1782. The Congress had al-ready (Oct. 1, 1781) called upon the several States for $8,000,000, payable quarterly in specie or commissary certificates, besides an additional outstanding requisition. The States were requested to impose separate and distinct taxes for their respective quotas of the sum of $8,000,000; the taxes to be made payable to the loan-office commissioners, or to federal collectors to be appointed by the superintendent of finance, for whom was asked the same power possessed by the State collector. At Washington's suggestion, a circular letter, containing an earnest call for men and money, was sent to the executive of each of the States; but the people were so much impoverished by the war and exhausted by past efforts that the call was feebly responded to; besides, the general expectations of peace furnished excuses for backwardness.

Some Americans, led by Captain Wilmot, a brave and daring young officer, were engaged in the duty of covering John's Island, near Charleston, in September, 1782. He was always impatient of in-action, and often crossed the narrow strait or river to harass British foraging parties on the island. While on one of these excursions, in company with Kosciuszko, he fell into an ambuscade and was killed. This, it is believed, was the last life sacrificed in battle in the war.

American FlagThe 25th of November was appointed for the evacuation of the city of New York by the British. The latter claimed the right of occupation until noon. Early in the morning Mrs. Day, who kept a boarding-house in Murray Street, near the Hudson River, ran up the American flag upon a pole at the gable end of her house. Cunningham, the British provost-marshal, hearing of it, sent an order for her to pull down the flag. She refused, and at about 9 A.M. he went in person to compel her to take it down. He was in full dress, in scarlet uniform and powdered wig. She was sweeping at the door. He ordered her to take down the flag. She refused. He seized the halyards to haul it down himself, whereupon the spunky lady fell upon him with her broom. She made the powder fly out of his wig and finally beat him off. This was the last conflict of the war.

The successful Revolution made no sudden or violent change in the laws or political institutions of the United States beyond casting off the superintending power of Great Britain, and even that power was replaced, to a limited extent, by the authority of Congress. The most marked peculiarity of the change was the public recognition of the theory of the equal rights of man. This theory was first publicly promulgated by the first Continental Congress in the Declaration of Colonial Rights. It was reiterated in the Declaration of Independence, and was tacitly recognized as the foundation of all the State governments. Yet, to a great extent, it remained a theory only, for human slavery was fostered and defended, by which 4,000,000 of the people of the republic were absolutely deprived of their natural rights, when the proclamation of President Lincoln (Jan. 1, 1863) reduced the theory to practice, and made all men and women within the United States absolutely free. In civil affairs, colonial usages, in modified forms, were apparent. In Pennsylvania, two persons from each county were to be chosen every seven years to act as a " council of censors," with power to investigate all branches of the Constitution. The constitution of New York established a " council of revision," composed of the governor, chancellor, and judges of the Supreme Court, to which were submitted all bills about to pass into laws. If objected to by the council, a majority of two-thirds in both branches of the legislature was required to pass them. A " council of appointment" was also provided for, consisting of sixteen Senators, to be annually elected by the Assembly, four from each of the four senatorial districts into which the State was at first divided. All nominations to office by the governor required the sanction of this council. By the constitution of Georgia all mechanics, even though destitute of pecuniary qualifications, were entitled to vote by virtue of their trades; and every person entitled to vote and failing to do so was subjected to a fine of £5.

 

 

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