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Appointment of a Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Washington's acceptance of the Office. His Modesty.
On the 15th of June, 1775, two days before the Bunker Hill battle, the Continental Congress, in session in Philadelphia, resolved “That a general be appointed to command all the Continental forces, raised or to be raised for the defense of American liberty;” also, “That five hundred dollars per month be allowed for the pay and expenses of the łof The most difficult question then to be decided was the choice of the man for the responsible of. fice. Military men of much experience were then in the field at the head of the army be. leaguring Boston, and by the common consent of the New England colonies General Artemus Ward was the commander-in-chief. It was conceded that he did not possess all the requisites of a skillful and judicious commander, so essential for the service; yet, it being doubtful how the New England people, and particularly the soldiery, would relish the supercession of General Ward by another, Congress was embarrassed respecting a choice. The apparent difficulty was soon overcome by the management of the New England delegation. The subject of the appointment had been informally discussed two or three days before, and John Adams had proposed the adoption of the provincial troops at Boston as a CoNTINENTAL ARMY. At the conclusion of his remarks, he expressed his intention to propose a member from Virginia for the office of generalissimo. All present understood the person alluded to to be Colonel George Washington, whose commanding military talents, as displayed in the service of Virginia, and his capacity as a statesman, as exhibited in the Congress of 1774, had made him exceedingly popular throughout the land. Acting upon this suggestion, Thomas Johnson, a delegate from Maryland, nominated Colonel Washing- . ton, and by a unanimous vote he was elected commander-in-chief. On the opening of the session on the following morning, President Hancock communicated to Washington, July 17, officially, a notice of his appointment. He rose in his place, and signified his ac- 1775. ceptance in a brief and truly patriotic reply.” Richard Henry Lee, Edward Rutledge, and John Adams were appointed a committee to draught a commission and instructions for the general; these were given to him four days afterward.” Four major generals, eight brig
Journals of Congress, i., 111, 112. * The following is a copy of his reply: “Mr. President–Though I am truly sensible of the high honor done me in this appointment, yet I feel great distress, from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important trust. However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service, and for the support of the glorious cause. I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks for this distinguished testimony of their approbation. But, lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered, by every gentleman in this room, that I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with. As to pay, sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept the arduous employment at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses. Those, I doubt not, they will discharge, and that is all I desire.” His expressions of distrust in his own ability to perform the duties imposed by the acceptance of the appointment were heartfelt and sincere. In a letter to his wife, dated the day after his appointment, he said, “You may believe me, my dear Patsy [the familiar name of Martha), when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking the appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity; and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were to be seven times seven years.” Washington was at this time forty-three years of age. * His commission was in the following words:
“To George WashingtoN, Esq.-We, reposing special trust and confidence in your patriotism, valor, conduct, and fidelity, do, by these presents, constitute and appoint you to be general and commander-inchief of the army of the United Colonies, and of all the forces now raised, or to be raised by them, and of all others who shall voluntarily offer their services, and join the said army for the defense of American liberty, and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof; and you are hereby vested with full power and authority to act as you shall think for the good and welfare of the service. And we do hereby strictly charge and require all officers and soldiers under your command to be obedient to your orders, and diligent in the exercise of their several duties. And we do also enjoin and require you to be careful in executing the great trust reposed in you, by causing strict discipline and order to be observed in the army, and that the soldiers be duly exercised, and provided with all convenient necessaries. And you are to regulate your
Departure of Washington for the Camp. Reception at New York, Watertown, and Cambridge. Takes Command of the Army.
adiers, and one adjutant general were appointed,' and the pay of the several officers was agreed upon.” Washington left Philadelphia for the camp at Cambridge on the 21st of June, where he arrived on the 2d of July. He was every where greeted with enthusiasm by crowds of people, and public bodies extended to him all the deference due to his exalted rank. He arrived at New York on the 25th, escorted by a company of light horse from Philadelphia. Governor Tryon arrived from England on the same day, and the same es. cort received both the distinguished men. There Washington first heard of the battle of Bunker Hill. He held a brief conference with General Schuyler, and gave that officer directions concerning his future operations. Toward evening, on the 26th, he left New York, under the escort of several military companies, passed the night at Kingsbridge, at the upper end of Manhattan or York Island, and the next morning, bidding adieu to the Philadelphia light horse, pressed on toward Boston. He reached Watertown on the morning of the 2d of July. The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, presided over by James Warren, was in session, and voted him a congratulatory address. Major-general Lee, who - accompanied him, also received an - -- address from that body. They ar. rived at Cambridge at two o'clock in the afternoon, and Washington established his head-quarters at the house prepared for him, delineated on page 555. On the morning of the 3d of July, at about nine o'clock, the * troops at Cambridge were drawn up in order upon the Common to receive the commander-in-chief. Accompanied by the general officers of the army No. who were present, Washington walked from * his quarters to the great elm-tree that now stands at the north end of the Common, and, under the shadow of its broad covering, stepped a few paces in front, made some remarks, drew his sword, ---- and formally took command of the Continental army. ** That was an auspicious act for America; and the love and reverence Tite wasmsaros Elmo which all felt for him on that occasion never waned during the eight long years of the conflict. When he resigned that commission into the hands of Congress at Annapolis, not a blot was visible upon the fair escutcheon of his character ; like Samuel, he could boldly “testify his integrity” in all things.
conduct in every respect by the rules and discipline of war (as here given you), and punctually to observe and follow such orders and directions, from time to time, as you shall receive from this or a future Congress of these United Colonies, or committee of Congress. This commission is to continue in force until revoked by this or a future Congress. Signed, John HAN.cock, President.”
The original of this commission, with other relics of the illustrious chief is carefully preserved in a glass case, in a room of the Patent Office building at Washington City. ' The names of these several officers are contained in a note on page 190. * The pay of the several officers was as follows, per month: major general, $166, and when acting in a separate department, $330; brigadier general, $125; adjutant general, $125; commissary general, $80; quarter-master general, $80; his deputy, $40; paymaster general, $100; his deputy, $50; chief engineer, so three aids-de-camp for the general, each, $33; his secretary, $66; commissary of the musters, $40. * The house seen in this sketch is one of the oldest in Cambridge, having been built about 1750. It has been in the possession of the Moore family about seventy-five years. Since I visited Cambridge I have been informed that a Mrs. Moore was still living there, who, from the window of that house, saw the ceremony of Washington taking command of the army. * 1 Samuel, xii., 3.
Council of War. Character of the Army. Punishments. Riflemen. Number of Troops in the Field. A model Order.
Washington called a council of war on the 9th. It was composed of the major no. generals and the brigadiers, and the object of the council was to consult upon future 1775. operations. The commander-in-chief found himself at the head of an army composed of a mixed multitude of men of every sort, from the honest and intelligent citizen, possessed of property and station, to the ignorant knave, having nothing to lose, and consequently every thing to gain. Organization had been effected in a very slight degree, and thorough discipline was altogether unknown. Intoxication, peculation, falsehood, disobedience, and disrespect were prevalent, and the punishments which had been resorted to were quite ineffectual to produce reform." It was estimated by the Council that, from the best information which could be obtained, the forces of the enemy consisted of eleven thousand five hundred effective men, while the Americans had only about fourteen thousand fit for duty.” It was unanimously decided by the Council to maintain the siege by strengthening the posts around Boston, then held by the Americans, by fortifications and recruits. It was also agreed that, if the troops should be attacked and routed by the enemy, the places of rendezvous should be Wales's Hill, in the rear of the Roxbury lines; and also that, at the present, it was “inexpedient to fortify Dorchester Point, or to oppose the enemy if he should attempt to take possession of it.”
Some riflemen from Maryland, Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania, enlisted under the orders of Congress, and led by Daniel Morgan, a man of powerful frame and sterling courage, soon joined the camp." Upon their breasts they wore the motto “LIBERTY or DEATH.” A large proportion of them were Irishmen, and were not very agreeable to the New Englanders. Otho Williams, afterward greatly distinguished, was lieutenant of one of the Maryland companies. Both these men rose to the rank of brigadier.
The first care of the commander-in-chief was to organize the army." He arranged it into three grand divisions, each division consisting of two brigades, or twelve regiments, in
* These punishments consisted in pecuniary fines, standing in the pillory, confinement in stocks, riding a wooden horse, whipping, and drumming out of the regiment. * The following return of the army was made to Adjutant-general Gates on the 19th of July:
No. of ic - - A- trank and file,
Massachusetts . . . . . 26 789 1,326 9,396 757 || 450 || 311 774 11,688
Total. . . . . . . 35 | 1,119 1,768 || 13,743 | 1,108 || 490 376 | 1,053 16,770
* These men attracted much attention, and on account of their sure and deadly aim, they became a terror to the British. Wonderful stories of their exploits went to England, and one of the riflemen, who was carried there a prisoner, was gazed at as a great curiosity. * The following general order was issued on the 4th of July, the day after Washington took command of the army: “The Continental Congress having now taken all the troops of the several colonies, which have been raised, or which may be hereafter raised for the support and defense of the liberties of America, into their pay and service, they are now the troops of the UNITED PRovinces of North AMERica; and it is hoped that all distinction of colonies will be laid aside, so that one and the same spirit may animate the whole, and the only contest be, who shall render, on this great and trying occasion, the most essential service to the great and common cause in which we are all engaged. It is required and expected that exact discipline be observed, and due subordination prevail through the whole army, as a failure in these most essential points must necessarily produce extreme hazard, disorder, and confusion, and end in shameful disappointment and disgrace. The general most earnestly requires and expects a due observance of those articles of war, established for the government of the army, which forbid profane cursing, swearing, and drunkenness; and in like manner, he requires and expects of all officers and soldiers, not engaged on actual duty, a punctual attendance on divine service, to implore the blessings of Heaven upon the means used for our safety and defense.” This brief order may be regarded as a model. In a few words, it evokes harmony, order, the exercise of patriotism, morality, sobriety, and an humble reverence for and reliance upon Divine Providence. It includes all the essential elements of good government. These principles were the moral bonds of union that kept the little Continental army together during the dreary years of its struggle for the mastery.
Arrangement of the Army. Location of the several Divisions. Officers of the same. General Joseph Spencer.
which the troops from the same colony, as far as practicable, were brought together. The right wing, under Major-general Ward, consisted of two brigades, commanded by Generals Thomas and Spencer," and was stationed at Roxbury and its southern dependencies. The left wing was placed under the command of General Lee, and consisted of the brigades of Sullivan and Greene. The former was stationed upon Winter Hill; the latter upon Prospect Hill. The center, stationed at Cambridge, was commanded by General Putnam, and consisted of two brigades, one of which was commanded by Heath, and the other by a senior officer, of less rank than that of brigadier. Thomas Mifflin, who accompanied Washington from Philadelphia as aid-de-camp, was made quarter-master general. Joseph Trum
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* Joseph Spencer served as a major and colonel during the Seven Years' War. He was a native of East Haddam, in Connecticut, where he was born in 1714. He was with the Continental army in the expedition against Rhode Island, in 1778, and assisted in Sullivan's retreat. He soon afterward resigned his commission, and left the army, when he was chosen to be a delegate in Congress from his native state. He died at East Haddam in January, 1789, aged seventy-five years. General Seth Pomeroy, who was appointed with Spencer and others, refused to serve, and Spencer took rank next to Putnam in the army at Boston. This removed, in a degree, the difficulty that was apprehended in settling the rank of some of the : By this arrangement, General Thomas, who was Ward's lieutenant general, was made the first
Relative Position of the belligerent Armies. American Fortifications. Emerson's Picture of the Camp.
bull, a son of the patriot governor of Connecticut, was appointed commissary general, and upon Joseph Reed, of Philadelphia, was bestowed the post of secretary to the commanderin-chief. In the course of a few months Reed returned to Philadelphia, and was succeeded in office by Robert H. Harrison, a Maryland lawyer. The relative position of the belligerent armies was, according to a letter written by Washington to the President of Congress, on the 10th of July, as follows: the British were strongly intrenched on Bunker Hill, about half a mile from the chief place of action on the 17th of June, with their sentries extending about one hundred and fifty yards beyond the narrowest point of Charlestown Neck. Three British floating batteries were in the Mystic River near Bunker Hill, and a twenty-gun ship was anchored below the ferry-place between Boston and Charlestown. They had a battery upon Copp's Hill in Boston, and the fortifications upon the Neck, toward Roxbury, were strengthened. Until the 8th, the British advance guards occupied Brown's Buildings, about a mile from Roxbury meetinghouse. On that day a party from General Thomas's camp surprised the guard, drove them in, and burned the houses. The bulk of the army, commanded by General Howe, lay upon Bunker Hill; and the light horse, and a corps of Tories, remained in Boston. The Americans had thrown up intrenchments on Winter and Prospect Hills, in full view of the British camp, which was only a mile distant. Strong works were also thrown up at Roxbury, two hundred yards above the meeting-house. Strong lines were made across from the Charlestown Road to the Mystic River, and by connecting redoubts, there was a complete line of defense from that river to Roxbury." A letter written by the Reverend William Emerson, a chaplain in the army, a few days after Washington's arrival, gives the following life-like picture of the camp : “New lords, new laws. The generals, Washington and Lee, are upon the lines every day. New orders from his excellency are read to the respective regiments every morning after prayers. The strictest government is taking place, and great distinction is made between officers and soldiers. Every one is made to know his place, and keep in it, or to be tied up and receive thirty or forty lashes, according to his crime. Thousands are at work every day from four till eleven o'clock in the morning. It is surprising how much work has been done. The lines are extended almost from Cambridge to the Mystic River; so that very soon it will be morally impossible for the enemy to get between the works, except in one place, which is supposed to be left purposely unfortified, to entice the enemy out of their fortresses. Who would have thought, twelve months past, that all Cambridge and Charlestown would be covered over with American camps, and cut up into forts and intrenchments, and all the lands, fields, and orchards laid common—horses and cattle feeding in the choicest mowing land, whole fields of corn eaten down to the ground, and large parks of well-regulated locusts cut down for fire-wood and other public uses. This, I must say, looks a little melancholy. My quarters are at the foot of the famous Prospect Hill, where such preparations are made for the reception of the enemy. It is very diverting to walk among the camps. They are as different in their form as the owners are in their dress, and every tent is a portraiture of the temper and taste of the persons who encamp in it. Some are made of boards, and some of sail-cloth; some partly of one and partly of the other. Again, others are made of stone or turf, brick or brush. Some are thrown up in a hurry; others are curiously wrought with doors and windows, done with wreaths and withes, in the manner of a basket. Some are your proper tents and marquees, looking like the regular camp of the enemy. In these are the Rhode Islanders, who are furnished with tent equipage and every thing in the most exact English style. However, I think this great variety rather a beauty than a blemish in the army.” While Washington was organizing the Continental army, Congress was active in the
* The reader will more clearly understand the relative position of the hostile forces and their respective fortifications, by a careful examination of the map on the preceding page. It shows the various works thrown up during the summer and autumn of 1775, and at the beginning of 1776.
* Spark's Life and Writings of Washington (Appendix), iii., 491.