Page images
PDF
EPUB

Chap.iv. was in some degree diminished by the arrival 1775. of a small supply of powder sent from Elizabeth town in New Jcrsev. The difficulties to be encountered by those who then conducted the affairs of America, may be, in some degree, conjectured from a circumstance attending this transaction. All essential to the general safety, as it apparently was, to replenish with the utmost possible expedition the magazines, of that army, which encamped in the face of the enemy, the committee of Elizabeth town were under the necessity of transmitting privately, and under other pretexts, this necessary aid, lest the people of the neighbourhood should seize and retain it for their own security. / The utmost address was used to conceal

from the enemy the alarming deficiency which has been stated; but when it is recollected in how many various directions, and to what various authorities application for assistance was unavoidably made, it will appear scarcely possible that those efforts at secrecy could have been completely successful. It is more probable, that the communications which must have been made to the British general were not credited; and that he could not persuade himself to believe, that a body of troops, circumstanced as was the American army in other respects, would be hardy enough to maintain the position they occupied, if destitute of ammunition. He knew well, that the want of powder must be rendered still more fatal to them by other wants Chap.iv. which could not be relieved. That of bayonets 1775. was peculiarly distressing. Their deficiency in this article was very considerable and was of public notoriety.

The people of New England were incomparably better armed than those of any other part of the continent; but even among them this important weapon was very far from being common, and the government had not yet even attempted to lay up magazines of arms to be delivered to their soldiers. The army was also in such, need of tents, as to be unavoidably lodged in barracks, instead of encamping in the open field, a circumstance extremely unfavourable to any sudden collection of its force, and not less unfavourable to health and discipline.

As the troops had been raised, not by congress, but by the colonial governments, each of which had a different establishment, no uniformity existed among the regiments. In Massachusetts, the men had chosen their officers, and felt no inferiority to them. Animated with the spirit of liberty, and collected for its defence, they were not immediately sensible of the importance of discipline, nor could they, in an instant, be subjected to its rules. The army was consequently found in a state of almost entire disorganization, and the difficulty of establishing the necessary principles

Chap. iv. of order and subordination, always considerable 1775. among raw troops, was greatly increased by the short terms for which enlistments had been made. The time of service of many, was to expire in November, and none were engaged to continue longer than the last of December. The early orders issued by the general'evidence a loose and unmilitary state of things, even surpassing what might reasonably be inferred from the circumstances under which the war was commenced.

An additional inconvenience, derived from the manner in which the army had been brought together, and the mingling of congressional and colonial authorities, was thus stated by general Washington in a letter addressed 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,

• . * s

* The general was under the necessity of carrying on a direct correspondence, not only with the several colonial governments, but with the committees of all the important towns, and some inferior places.

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 the purpose."*

To the many other wants of the army was added that of clothes, a supply of which had been rendered much more difficult than it would otherwise have been by the non-importation agreement which had preceded the commencement of hostilities.

Their operations were greatly affected too, by the total want of engineers, in addition to which, they were very insufficiently furnished with working tools.

To increase the derangements, already so considerable, the appointment of general officers made by congress, gave extensive dissatisfaction, and determined several of those who thought themselves injured, to retire from the service.

These disadvantages deducted essentially from the efficiency of the American force; but under them all, the general observed with pleasure, "the materials for a good army." There were "a great number of men, able

* Is it not strange that an army should have been formed without such an officer?

Chap. iv. bodied, active, zealous in the cause, and of 1775. unquestionable courage." Possessed of these materials he employed himself incessantly and, indefatigably in so organizing as to render them serviceable. The army was arranged into divisions and brigades; even this regulation had not yet been made; and congress was urged to the appointment of a paymaster, quartermaster-general, and such other general staff, as are indispensable in the structure of a regular military establishment, but had yet been omitted.

About this time general Gage received a small re-enforcement from New York, after whidh his whole number, including the American loyalists, was computed at something less than eight thousand men.

The facility with which this force could be drawn together, so as to act against any one point of the very extended lines occupied by the Americans, probably rendered it competent to an attack on them. But it is also probable that the enemy were entirely deceived with respect to the number and condition of the provincial troops: and the severe reception given them at Breed's hill, had inspired some respect for the courage of their opponents, and a consequent degree of caution in attacking their lines.

General Washington was sensible of the difficulties of his situation, and on first joining the

« PreviousContinue »