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The Continental Army, Chapter II

HORATIO GATES (ca. 1728 – 1806) was a former British officer living in Virginia when selected in 1775 as the first adjutant general As a major general he won glory at Saratoga and suffered humiliation at Camden. (Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1782.)

general) reflected Congress’ hope that his staff experience would enable him to provide Washington with strong administrative assistance.24

On 19 June two more major generals were appointed to satisfy other colonies’ contributing large troop contingents. Philip Schuyler, a New York delegate with close ties to Washington, was expected to take command of the troops in his colony. A member of one of New York’s leading families, the 42-year-old Schuyler had been a major in the French and Indian War, specializing in logistics. His experience, political connections, and extensive business interests in Albany were particularly valuable in his new command. Connecticut’s delegation could not agree on a nominee for that colony’s major general. In the end Israel Putnam’s status as a folk hero outweighed consideration of seniority, and he received the appointment. Putnam, at 57, had seen extensive service in the French and Indian War, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He had also been an early, vocal leader of the Connecticut Sons of Liberty.25

The process of selecting brigadier generals on 22 June was the product of a compromise. Congress allotted these appointments in proportion to the number of men contributed by each colony and followed the recommendations of the colony’s delegates in the actual selection. Congress, however, created problems by ignoring seniority and status. When it elected Massachusetts’ Seth Pomeroy, William Heath, and

24. Smith, Letters of Delegates, 1:503-4, 507-8, 529-30, 533, 537; Charles Martyn, The Life of Artemas Ward, the First Commander-in-Chief of the American Revolution (1921; reprint ed., Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1970); John R. Alden, Genera/ Charles Lee, Traitor or Patriot? (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1951); Paul David Nelson, General Horatio Gates: A Biography (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976).
25. Smith, Letters of Delegates, 1:442-43, 521-22, 529-30, 535, 539-40, 542-43, 555-56, 626-27; Martin H. Bush, Revolutionary Enigma: A Re-appraisal of General Philip Schuyler of New York (Port Washington, N.Y.: Ira J. Friedman, 1969); Don R. Gerlach, Philip Schuyler and the American Revolution in New York, 1733-1777 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964); Increase N. Tarbox, Life of Israel Putnam (“Old Put”), Major-General in the Continental Army (1876; reprint ed., Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1970). Putnam’s election was the only unanimous one other than Washington’s.

NATHANAEL GREENE (1742 – 86) emerged from a Quaker background to become one of the Continental Army s most brilliant strategists and commander of the Southern Department. (Portrait by Charles Willson Peale 1783.)

John Thomas as the first, fourth, and sixth brigadier generals, respectively, Thomas felt he had been slighted. The situation was resolved when Pomeroy declined the appointment, citing age, before Washington handed out the commissions. Congress then made Thomas the first brigadier general, although it did not fill the vacancy created by Pomeroy’s withdrawal. Thomas, a surgeon, militiamen, and former Provincial born in 1724, had gained combat experience primarily in medical roles. Heath, thirteen years younger, was strictly a product of the militia.26

Richard Montgomery of New York became the second ranking brigadier general. Born in Ireland in 1738 and educated at Dublin’s Trinity College, he had entered the British Army in 1756. After combat service in North America and in the Caribbean, he resigned in 1772 when he failed to receive a promotion to major. He moved to New York, married into the powerful Livingston family, and in 1775 won election to the New York Provincial Congress. Montgomery’s appointment was intended to complement Schuyler’s logistical and administrative skills with combat experience. David Wooster and Joseph Spencer of Connecticut became the third and fifth brigadier generals. Born in 1711 and educated at Yale, Wooster had served in Connecticut’s navy during King George’s War. He later commanded a regiment in the French and Indian War. Spencer, three years younger, had also served in both wars. The two men initially refused to serve under Putnam, disputing his seniority, and had to be coaxed into accepting their commissions. Delegate John Sullivan of New Hampshire, a 35-year-old lawyer, became the seventh brigadier general instead of Nathaniel Folsom. Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island completed the list.

In retrospect, the June 1775 decision of the Continental Congress to create the Continental Army seems remarkably free from political strife. Delegates of all shades of opinion supported each step, and arguments largely concerned technical details.

26. JCC, 2:103-4, 191; Smith, Letters of Delegates, 1:525-30, 542-43, 651-53, 662-64; Rossie, Politics of Command, pp. 16-24; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 3:465-67; Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 3:1107-8.

Unanimity resulted from a conviction that British actions required defensive measures and from carefully worded compromises. Those individuals committed to the ideal of the citizen-soldier saw Congress’ adoption of the short-term New England force as an acceptance of a yeoman army. Others, remembering practical lessons of the colonial wars, believed that they were forming an army based on the Provincial model. Officer selection was another area of compromise; the fact that Washington and Schuyler were given blank commissions from Congress to distribute to the regimental officers confirmed local selections while retaining a nominal national level of appointment.27

Washington Takes Command
Washington and Schuyler left Philadelphia on 23 June to take up their new responsibilities. The Commander in Chief reached Cambridge late in the evening on 2 July and formally opened his headquarters the next day. His mission was to tarn the various armed forces assembled around Boston into a unified army. Three major needs required his attention: a tactical and administrative organization above the regimental level; a centralized special staff; and a unified system of discipline. Washington was guided in this work by Congress’ general directions and by the model provided by the British Army. Although the troops were still drawn primarily from the five northernmost colonies at the end of 1775, a national control over them was clearly emerging.

Regiments from the different New England colonies arrived at Boston in 1775 in a piecemeal fashion and occupied positions dictated by the terrain and the road network. Washington imposed greater rationality and control by introducing divisions and brigades as echelons between his headquarters and the regiments. He also adapted his organization to the specific geographical conditions and personalities at Boston. On 22 July, after some hesitancy because of problems of rank and precedence and lack of guidance from Congress, Washington assigned his available generals to command three divisions and six brigades.28

Each general defended a sector of the siege lines. The British occupied two peninsulas in Boston harbor connected to the mainland by narrow necks. Ward, with brigades under Thomas and Spencer, guarded the southern, or right, wing opposite Boston Neck. Lee manned the left wing, shutting off Charlestown Peninsula with Sullivan’s and Greene’s Brigades. The third division remained in the central area of the lines as a reserve force under Washington’s close supervision. Putnam commanded Heath’s Brigade and the sixth brigade. The latter was under the temporary command of the senior colonel because Pomeroy’s vacancy had not been filled. This arrangement was retained throughout the siege. Each brigade, normally six regiments, defended its own sector, while the specialized riflemen and the artillery remained directly under Washington’s headquarters.

Congress had begun creating a staff structure on 16 June, but it had filled only one

27. Henderson, Party Politics, pp. 53-54; White, “Standing Armies,” pp. 95-97, 109-10, 112, 119; Cress, “The Standing Army, the Militia, and the New Republic,” pp. 114-38.
28. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 3:349, 354-56, 396-97. The printed version of the General Orders for 22 July is incomplete.

BOSTON, JULY 1775. H. Charles McBarron ‘s modern painting shows Generals Washington and Ward and an aide examining plans of the siege lines. Infantry units in the background illustrate the lack of standard uniforms during this period.

post immediately, appointing Gates as Adjutant General.29 The primacy Congress accorded the post of Adjutant General is evident also in the general officer rank that Gates received. In the British Army the Adjutant General, working closely with the civilian Secretary at War, had responsibility for discipline, compilation of rolls and rosters, and supervision of drills and clothing. The specific model for the Continental Army’s Adjutant General, however, was the temporary staff adjutant general that the British appointed for each major expeditionary force. This officer, whose position was relatively new, handled guards, details, paperwork (including the transmission of orders), and the formation of the infantry into the line of battle. A brigade-level officer, the brigade major, assisted him, plus a detail of sergeants who acted as messengers.

Washington let Gates have a free hand in establishing administrative procedures, a task Gates performed efficiently. The difficulties Gates experienced in compiling the first strength returns, a major portion of his job, led to the introduction of printed forms and regularized procedures.30 His authority extended to lower echelons through brigade majors and adjutants. British brigade majors were captains selected by a brigade commander to serve as his link between the expeditionary adjutant general and the regiments. The brigade major also supervised the daily working and guard parties of the brigade. His office was temporary since in the British Army a brigade was a

29. General background on the duties of staff officers is contained in the following: George Smith, An Universal Military Dictionary (London: J. Milan, 1779); S. G. P. Ward, Wellington’s Headquarters: A Study of the Administrative Problems in the Peninsula, 1809-1814 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), pp. 10-31; Clifford Walton, History of the British Standing Army, AD 1660 to 1700 (London: Harrison and Sons, 1894), pp. 615-29, 637-47.
30. George A. Billias, “Horatio Gates: A Professional Soldier,” in George A. Billias, ed., George Washington’s Generals (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1964), pp. 82-84; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 3:318-19, 328, 335; Charles H. Lesser, ed., The Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), pp. xii-xxviii. RG 93, National Archives, contains weekly returns that were maintained as a separate system from the monthly returns to provide a check on the latter’s accuracy.

GENERAL RETURN, MAIN ARMY, 19 JULY 1775. Adj. Gen. Horatio Gates compiled this first strength return of the Continental Army at the siege of Boston. This return established a general format for returns used throughout the war, i.e., a list of units, with a detailed accounting of officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates present or in various duty categories. It normally indicated how many enlisted men each unit still needed to recruit to reach its full authorization. Washington received weekly and monthly returns, which were prepared separately, and special returns. He used these in planning.

transitory formation. The adjutant paralleled the brigade major on the regimental level. In the British Army a junior company officer customarily was assigned this duty in addition to his normal tasks. He assisted the major, who retained nominal responsibility for the regiment’s staff work. In the Continental Army both the brigade major and the adjutant initially were modeled after these British precedents but were normally established as separate staff officers. In addition, on 14 September Congress confirmed the New York Provincial Congress’ selection of Edward Fleming as deputy adjutant general for the New York Department with the rank of colonel.31

On 27 June Massachusetts had appointed William Henshaw as adjutant general for Ward’s troops and Samuel Brewer for its other major concentration of troops commanded by General Thomas. When Washington informed Congress of his command organization on 10 July, Congress assumed correctly that he had established three geographic centers, and it, therefore, authorized three brigade majors. Washington accepted Massachusetts’ two adjutants general and Rhode Island’s brigade major as de facto brigade majors and requested Congress to authorize three more, one for each of the army’s six brigades. When Congress failed to reply, he acted in August on his own authority. He appointed David Henley, John Trumbull, and Richard Cary and confirmed Daniel Box of Rhode Island, Brewer, and Alexander Scammell, who had succeeded Henshaw. As the war continued, Congress normally delegated authority to appoint brigade majors to either the Commander in Chief or the territorial department commanders, who in turn deferred selection of specific individuals to the brigade commanders.32

In the weeks following 16 June Congress and Washington selected the remaining administrative staff, again following British precedents. Their intention was to use the Paymaster General, the disburser of funds, to consolidate Continental control over finances. Two important politicians, James Warren of Massachusetts and Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., of Connecticut, were elected on 27 and 28 July as the Paymaster General and the deputy paymaster general (for the New York Department). At the end of the siege of Boston, Warren declined to move with Washington and the Main Army to New York. Congress replaced him on 27 April 1776 with William Palfrey, a Boston merchant who had been John Hancock’s business manager and Charles Lee’s aide.33 This staff department would always be relatively small and unimportant. In the British Army, where regiments were the property of their colonels, the Paymaster General served as the channel through which funds were transmitted to the regiment’s commercial agent to purchase needed items. Since most of these items were issued directly in the Continental Army, the agent system never developed, and the Paymaster General concentrated particularly on disbursing funds for salaries.

The British Commissary General of Musters (or Mustermaster General) was the

31. JCC, 2:220-23, 249; Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 2:1803; 3:549, 564; Smith, Letters of Delegates, 1:631; 2:19-20. Fleming was actually a third choice after William Duer and Robert G. Livingston had declined the post.
32. Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 2:581, 783, 1451-52; JCC, 2:190; Smith, Letters of Delegates, 1:662-64; 2:42; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 3:320-29, 352-53, 390-99, 425, 427, 456, 461-63; Edmund C. Burnett, ed., Letters of Members of the Continental Congress, 8 vols. (Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1921-36) 3:262-63; Henshaw, Orderly Book, p. 13.
33. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 3:346-52; 4:470-73; 5:11-12; JCC, 2:93, 209-12; 4:42-44, 296, 314-16; Smith, Letters of Delegates, 1:667-68, 682: Henderson. Party Politics, p. 54.

PAY ROLL. Capt. Philip Richard Francis Lee’s pay roll for his company of the 3d Virginia Regiment for October 1777 is typical of this type of document. It lists all the company’s members, their ranks, that part of the month each actually served, the pay due each, and any casualties or changes which took place during the month. The senior officer present when the roll was submitted had to attest to its accuracy and sign it. Captain Lee raised this company in Prince William County, Virginia, in 1776.

MUSTER ROLL. The monthly muster roll, shown here on two pages, was one of the most important documents kept by the Continental Army. It listed all officers and men in a company: their dates of enlistment, rank, and promotion; their length of enlistment; and the status of each on the day the company was officially inspected by the Mustermaster’s Department. The roll was drawn up by the company commander and signed by him and by the inspecting officer. This roll for November 1777 is for Capt. Valentine Peyton’s company of the 3d Virginia Regiment. The company was originally raised in 1776 in Fauquier County by Capt. John Ashby.