Revolutionary War Genealogy



As for the means through which the declared independence of America was to be consummated, and the opposing means through which England hoped to reduce her revolted colonies to obedience, there were discouraging circumstances on both sides. Besides the difficulties experienced by Washington in making an army out of the intractable materials placed in his hands, and of the inconvenience arising from the short terms of enlistment of the men, there were other disheartening conditions. An officer who at that time wrote to a member of Congress presented a deplorable picture of the state of the army: "Almost every villainy that can disgrace the man, the soldier, or the citizen is daily practised, without meeting the punishment they merit. So many of our officers want honor, and so many of our soldiers want virtue, civil, social, and military, that nothing but the severest punishments will keep both from practices that must ruin us. . Our men are at present only robbers; that they will soon be murderers, unless some are hanged, I have no doubt." This is the testimony of a patriotic American, and it is confirmed by other statements.

It was evident that a total change in the military system of the country was requisite. Many of the soldiers were enlisted for a few months, and none for more than a year, and they had no time to learn the business of war. The enthusiasm of the militia quickly died out, as it necessarily always does, and it was remarked by a member of Congress that the Americans had lost most of that virtue which first drew them to the field, and were sinking into an army of mercenaries. They received so little pay, and were so ill provided with the necessaries of life, that there was some excuse for their acts of plundering. Yet these acts were of serious dimensions. Washington spoke of them as infamous, and said that no man was secure in his effects, and scarcely in his person. Yet he found it impossible to reduce the soldiers to subordination, under existing circumstances. He did his utmost to rouse Congress to the importance of long enlistments, but such was the dread of a standing army that these demands were as yet unheeded. Congress, indeed, discouraged the formation of martial habits, and required that frequent furloughs should be granted, "rather than that the endearments of wives and children should cease to allure the individuals of our army from camps to farms." This was no way to make an army, as the law-makers were destined to discover. Shortly before the evacuation of New York by General Washington, it was resolved, against considerable opposition, to reorganize the army in eighty-eight battalions, to be made up of men enlisted for the war. A quota was assigned to each State, and, to encourage enlistments, a bounty of twenty dollars and one hundred acres of land was given to every recruit, with higher bounties to officers. A new set of rules for the discipline of the army was at the same time adopted. It had become evident that a regular army must be formed if success were desired.

Yet the raising of these new levies proceeded with discouraging slowness, and meanwhile affairs were going from bad to worse. One expedient adopted by Congress was an attempt to seduce the Hessian troops from the British service by the offer of large bounties in land. Yet the condition of American affairs after the loss of New York was calculated to render all these efforts nugatory. When Washington reached the western shore of the Delaware, after his retreat through New Jersey, the fortunes of the United States were at a very low ebb. The army was greatly reduced in numbers, and the term of all its members would end within a month. Indications looked towards its complete disbandment, and a hopeless yielding of the colonies to the power against which they had rebelled.

Washington's success at Trenton radically changed this depressing state of affairs. The cruelty of the British and the Hessians had aroused the people of the occupied regions to bitter hatred, and as the Continental army gradually regained possession of the State of New Jersey, confidence returned, and the depleted ranks were filled up with new levies. From that time forward the American forces became an army more than in name, and the fortunes of the United States never again sank to so low an ebb.

While these difficulties existed in America, England had not been without her troubles. The doings of the ministry had from the first roused a powerful opposition in Parliament, and the Earl of Chatham, in particular, arraigned the government for injustice to the colonies, deprecated the attempt to reduce them by force, and demanded a complete removal of the oppressive acts which had driven the loyal colonists to rebellion. He was of opinion that this course would bring them back to their allegiance; but in this he misjudged the sentiments of the Americans, as was proved when the ministry afterwards sent out commissioners to treat with Congress and the colonies on the basis of a redress of grievances. Neither Congress nor the people of the States would listen to their proposals, and they were forced to return without achieving their purpose.

America could be reduced only by force, and this force proved difficult to obtain. The service was not popular, and recruiting for the American war went on very slowly. The British government, hampered by this circumstance, looked abroad for aid, offering its money for the men of other states. Its great hope was in Russia, whose empress had made some friendly remarks about England which were construed into a readiness to furnish troops. An application for twenty thousand infantry was made, and so sure was the British ministry of obtaining them that there was sent to Carleton, in Canada, an assurance of speedy reinforcements. But the Empress Catherine had meant nothing of the kind, and she bluntly declined to hire out her soldiers as mercenaries. Her refusal was so expressed as to give great offence to George III., who found himself now obliged to depend on the German principalities for aid. He also considered the project of rousing the High-landers of North Carolina and the loyalists of the Middle and Southern provinces.

In the latter part of 1775 the situation of England was a grave one. The opponents in Parliament to the action of the ministry were numerous, and comprised some of the foremost men in that body The military position of the country was still worse. Twenty-eight thousand sailors and fifty thousand soldiers had been asked for; but these were insufficient for the purposes required, and a bill enabling the king to call out the militia, to use in America, was passed.

Yet the need of soldiers was immediate, and application was made to various Continental powers, among them Holland, where a so-called Scottish brigade had existed since early in the seventeenth century. But Holland refused the use of this body, except for employment in Europe. This George III. declined. He had, indeed, obtained assistance from another quarter. Contracts had been made for the enlistment of soldiers in some of the petty German states. These were in part secret, but open negotiations were carried on with the Duke of Brunswick and the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. The subjects of these magnates were bought like so many cattle, it being arranged with the duke that every soldier killed should be paid for at the rate of the levy-money, and that three wounded should be reckoned as one killed. An annual subsidy was to be paid.

The German troops obtained in this discreditable manner numbered seventeen thousand men. Of these, Hesse-Cassel supplied twelve thousand, and Brunswick and other petty states the remainder. The affair was a disgraceful one on both sides, and aroused indignation throughout Europe. Frederick the Great, a man not over-scrupulous in his own measures, viewed it as an abominable traffic in human lives, and it is said that whenever any of these hirelings passed through his territory he levied on them the usual toll for cattle, saying that they had been sold as such.

Many in England entertained a similar feeling; yet the treaties were ratified by large majorities in Parliament, and these disgracefully-obtained troops were shipped to America. There the proceeding was viewed with the utmost indignation, and served to increase the bitterness and determination of the colonists, whose rebellious energy was greatly added to by the means thus taken to overcome it, and particularly by the measures employed to bring the Indians into the conflict in support of the British cause. Such was the state of affairs in America and England at the period at which we have now arrived. In the Declaration of Independence America had flung the gauntlet of defiance at the feet of the British government, and both sides prepared for a stern continuance of the war.





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