The American Revolutionary Army: First training

(The following is taken from Ramsay's "History of the American Revolution," a valuable old work, written but a few years after the Revolution had ended.)

As the year 1775 drew to a close, the friends of Congress were embarrassed with a new difficulty. Their army was temporary, and only engaged to serve out the year. The object for which they had taken up arms was not yet obtained. Every reason which had previously induced the provinces to embody a military force still existed, and with increasing weight. It was therefore resolved to form a new army. The same flattering hopes were indulged, that an army for the ensuing year would answer every purpose. It was presumed that the spirit which had hitherto operated on the yeomanry of the country would induce most of the same individuals to engage for another twelvemonth; but on experiment it was found that much of their military ardor had already evaporated. The first impulse of passion and the novelty of the scene had brought many to the field who had great objections against continuing in the military line. They found that to be soldiers required sacrifices of which when they assumed that character they had no idea. So unacquainted were the bulk of the people with the mode of carrying on modern war that many of them flew to arms with the delusive expectation of settling the whole dispute by a few decisive and immediate engagements. Experience soon taught them that to risk life in open fighting was but a part of the soldier's duty. Several of the inferior officers retired; the men frequently refused to enlist unless they were allowed to choose their officers. Others would not engage unless they were indulged with furloughs. Fifty would apply together for leave of absence. Indulgence threatened less ruinous consequences than a refusal would probably have produced. On the whole, enlistments went on slowly.. So many difficulties retarded the recruiting service that on the last day of the year 1775 the whole American army amounted to no more than nine thousand six hundred and fifty men. Of the remarkable events with which this important year was replete, it was not the least that within musket-shot of twenty British regiments one army was disbanded and another enlisted.

All this time the British troops at Boston were suffering the inconvenience of a blockade. From the 19th of April they were cut off from those refreshments which their situation required. Their supplies from Britain did not reach the coast for a long time after they were expected. Several were taken by the American cruisers, and others were lost at sea. This was in particular the fate of many of their coal-ships. The want of fuel was particularly felt in a climate where the winter is both severe and tedious. They relieved themselves in part from their sufferings on this account by the timber of houses which they pulled down and burnt. Vessels were dispatched to the West Indies to procure provisions; but the islands were so straitened that they could afford but little assistance. Armed ships and transports were ordered to Georgia with an intent to procure rice; but the people of that province, with the aid of a party from South Carolina, so effectually disposed of them that of eleven vessels only two got off safe with their cargoes. It was not till the stock of the garrison was nearly exhausted, that the transports from England entered the port of Boston and relieved the distresses of the garrison.

While the troops within the lines were apprehensive of suffering from want of provisions, the troops without were equally uneasy for want of employment. Used to labor and motion on their farms, they relished the inactivity and confinement of a camp life. Fiery spirits declaimed in favor of an assault. They preferred a bold spirit of enterprise, to that passive fortitude which bears up under present evils while it waits for favorable junctures. To be in readiness for an attempt of this kind, a council of war recommended to call in seven thousand two hundred and eighty militia-men from New Hampshire or Connecticut. This number, added to the regular army before Boston, would have made an operating force of about seventeen thousand men.

The provincials labored under great inconveniences from the want of arms and ammunition. Very early in the contest, the King of Great Britain, by proclamation, forbade the exportation of warlike stores to the colonies. Great exertions had been made to manufacture saltpeter and gunpowder, but the supply was slow and inadequate. A secret committee of Congress had been appointed, with ample powers to lay in a stock of this necessary article. Some swift-sailing vessels had been despatched to the coast of Africa to purchase what could be procured in that distant region; a party from Charleston forcibly took about seventeen thousand pounds of powder from a vessel near the bar of St. Augustine; some time after, Commodore Hopkins stripped Providence, one of the Bahama Islands, of a quantity of artillery and stores; but the whole, procured from all these quarters, was far short of a sufficiency. In order to supply the new army before Boston with the necessary means of defence, an application was made to Massachusetts for arms, but on examination it was found that their public stores afforded only two hundred. Orders were issued to purchase firelocks from private persons, but few had any to sell, and fewer would part with them. In the month of February there were two thousand of the American infantry who were destitute of arms. Powder was equally scarce; and yet daily applications were made for dividends of the small quantity which was on hand for the defence of the various parts threatened with invasion.

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