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The Continental Army, Chapter II

the handful of volunteer companies at its disposal. Congress stepped in when it not only directed New York to raise 3,000 troops but also assumed responsibility for the 4th Connecticut Regiment sent to protect the area from British counterattack.

Washington and Schuyler, commander of the troops in New York, discussed plans on their trip north from Philadelphia. Washington gave his instructions to Schuyler on 25 June when they parted company at New York City. The Commander in Chief emphasized organization and the importance of creating a logistical apparatus. He also told his subordinate to follow any instructions that came directly from Congress. On 20 July Congress formalized Schuyler’s territorial department as one of the basic command elements of the Continental Army when it instructed Schuyler: “to dispose of and employ all the troops in the New York department in such manner as he may think best for the protection and defense of these colonies, . . . subject to future orders of the commander in chief.”44 Schuyler’s little army in the New York Department (known for most of the war as the Northern Department) contained the 4th Connecticut Regiment, the 1st and 5th Connecticut Regiments near New York City, and the planned force of 3,000 New Yorkers. His subordinate generals, Montgomery and Wooster, reflected the two-colony origin of his command.45

The New York Provincial Congress, for a variety of reasons, did not approve a plan for organizing and recruiting its quota until 27 June. The selection of officers took another three days. The four regiments it fielded fell between the extremes of the New England regiments in size. (See Chart 1.) Each contained ten companies; a company included 3 officers and 72 enlisted men. The companies were apportioned among the various counties, whose committees of correspondence supervised recruiting. This apportionment gave the regiments a geographical basis, and their numerical designations reflected the militia precedence of the counties which furnished the bulk of the men in a particular regiment.46

Alexander McDougall commanded the 1st New York Regiment, which was raised in New York City. He had no military experience but was a leader in the city of the Sons of Liberty. A substantial proportion of his officers had backgrounds either in the French and Indian War or in the city’s elite volunteer militia battalion. The 2d Regiment was assigned to the northern portion of the colony and to Albany, the other urban area in the colony. Its commander, Col. Goose Van Schaick, was the son of a former mayor, and many of the other officers also came from the Dutch segment of the population. The 3d and 4th Regiments divided the rest of the colony, roughly along the line of the Hudson River. James Clinton, a militant leader in Ulster County, commanded the 3d. James Holmes and Philip Van Cortlandt, more conservative leaders from Westchester and Dutchess Counties, respectively, became colonel and lieutenant colonel of the 4th. The officers of each regiment represented the prevailing political sentiments of their portion of the colony. The recently established Committee of Safety also decided to form an artillery company, and on 17 June it appointed John

44. JCC, 2:194.
45. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 3:302-4; Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 2:1667-68. Schuyler’s first monthly report to Washington, dated 15 July, includes the department’s first return, dated 1 July.
46. Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 2:1259, 1267, 1275, 1280, 1314-28, 1334-35, 1719-20, 1796; 3:23-25, 525, 532, 1268-69; James Sullivan and Alexander C. Flick, eds., Minutes of the Albany Committee of Correspondence, 1775-1778, 2 vols. (Albany: University of the State of New York, 1923-25), 1:120-21, 140-42.

Lamb, another New York City Son of Liberty, as its commander. Raised in the city, the company was organized on the same pattern as the companies of artillery at Boston.47

The Continental Congress authorized the formation of a special unit in Schuyler’s army as a reward for Ethan Allen’s role in the seizure of Ticonderoga. His Green Mountain Boys were a quasi-independent group in the area known as the Hampshire Grants (today’s Vermont). Congress recognized that they possessed special skills in wilderness fighting, but it also knew that they were fiercely independent. It, therefore, instructed Schuyler and the New York Provincial Congress, which deferred to Schuyler, to allow Allen’s men to organize seven companies and to elect their own officers. They were formed into a regiment with the same company structure and terms of enlistment that the New Yorkers had, but they were commanded by a lieutenant colonel rather than a colonel. To Allen’s disgust, his men elected Seth Warner, a veteran of Rogers’ Rangers of the French and Indian War, to the command.48

Schuyler, following congressional instructions, launched an invasion of Canada on 31 August. Montgomery received the primary tactical responsibility for the offensive. Governor Guy Carleton attempted to halt the Americans at St. John’s, but Montgomery drove him back toward Quebec City before winter weather restricted American movements. The regiments of Schuyler’s army were supplemented during this offensive by French-Canadians and by three companies of rangers commanded by Maj. Timothy Bedel. New Hampshire had raised these companies as state troops during the summer to guard the Connecticut River valley; on Washington’s advice, the colony had offered them to Schuyler when it had become clear that the region was not in immediate danger.49

Washington launched a second invasion directly from Boston. This maneuver not only complicated Carleton’s defensive problems but also enabled Washington to send reinforcements to Montgomery by the most direct route. On 11 September he gave Benedict Arnold, who had returned to Boston, command of a special force of 1,100 men drawn from the main army. Three rifle companies (Daniel Morgan’s from Virginia and Mathew Smith’s and William Hendricks’ from the Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment) and two provisional five-company infantry battalions of New Englanders reached the banks of the St. Lawrence River on 9 November after an epic trek through the wilderness of Maine. Lacking the strength to attack the city of Quebec alone, Arnold had to wait for Montgomery, who had paused at Montreal to regroup his disease-riddled ranks. The two forces linked outside Quebec on 1 December. Although Montgomery was able to persuade some of his troops to extend their enlistments beyond 31 December 1775, many more indicated that they would leave for home at the start of the new year. Carleton could not be bluffed into surrendering, and Lamb’s field guns

47. Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 2:1140, 1791, 1811-13; 3:445, 563; Historical Magazine, 1st ser., 7 (1863):194-95; Roger J. Champagne, Alexander McDougall and the American Revolution in New York (Schenectady: New York State American Revolution Bicentennial commission, 1975), pp. 90-95; Isaac Q. Leake, Memoir of the Life and Times of Genera/ John Lamb (Albany: Munsell, 1850). Rich insight into the creation of these first New York units comes from the papers of McDougall and Lamb; both collections are in the New-York Historical Society.
48. Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 2:1339; 3:529-30, 570-71, 1268-69; JCC, 2:105; Smith, Letters of Delegates, 1:541.
49. JCC, 2:109-10; Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 2:655-57, 1183, 1767; 3:60, 697, 779; Sullivan, Letters and Papers, 1:65-68, 71-72; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 3:370-71, 436-39.

MARINUS WILLETT (1740 – 1830) was a veteran of the French and Indian War, the New York City volunteer militia, and the Sons of Liberty when he became a captain in the 1st New York Regiment in 1775. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and led the New York State troops from 1781 to war’s end. (Portrait by John Trumbull, 1808).

were ineffective against the city’s walls. Deciding to gamble on storming the works, Montgomery made his attempt on the night of 30-31 December under cover of a snowstorm. He was killed, and the attack was repulsed. A wounded Arnold, with only a handful of men, continued to blockade the city as 1776 began.

By the end of 1775 control over the war had passed from the individual northern colonies to the Continental Congress. Acting as a national government, that body had appointed general officers, had initiated the development of staff and disciplinary systems, had accepted financial responsibility for existing units, had authorized the creation of other units, and had formed two major operational commands under two of its members. Unanimously chosen as Commander in Chief, Washington took charge of the main army, which was penning the British into Boston. Philip Schuyler accepted responsibility for the smaller force that was created to defend New York but which was then employed in a preemptive invasion of Canada.

Various conditions prevented Congress and Washington from imposing a fully rational arrangement during the first months of the war. They had to accept existing military forces and react to the flow of events. More importantly, any action which Congress took had to be supported by delegates representing every shade of political opinion. The rhetoric of protest against British policy had strongly denied the need for a large “standing army” of regular soldiers in America on the grounds that the colonial militia forces, composed of virtuous citizen-soldiers, were perfectly adequate for local defense. The outbreak of hostilities in Massachusetts did not change this attitude. Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill only seemed to confirm the validity of that assumption.

To secure a broad base of support, Congress carefully stressed that it was acting only out of self-defense. The modest size of the forces at its command and the short pe-

riod of enlistment directly reflected the American opposition to the notion of a standing army. These features also stemmed from American experiences in raising troops during earlier colonial wars. In 1775 the American units resembled the Provincials of the French and Indian War, which had been raised for a specific term to counter a clearly identified enemy regular force. Since most of the Continental forces had been raised and organized by the governing bodies of the individual colonies, assisted by local committees of correspondence or safety, they were ideologically viable because they could still be considered responsible to “the people.” Indeed, except for the rifle companies, the men technically remained enlisted in the service of the various colonial governments which had turned the units over to Congress.

The first Continental officers, like the officers who had commanded the Provincials, were drawn from the leaders of individual communities. They were products of the militia system, chosen for their experience, for their ability to raise men, and especially for their political reliability. That these leaders mirrored the socio-political elites of their respective colonies is not surprising. American society in the eighteenth, century was “deferential.” Leadership in every sphere of life was entrusted to men of merit and wealth on the grounds that they had the greatest stake in society. In return, the leaders, according to this theory, were obligated to seine society to the best of their abilities.

Despite the various factors involved in their selection, the senior officers of the Continental Army turned out to have a remarkable amount of practical military experience, largely gained as captains and field officers during the French and Indian War. This experience was comparable to that of their opponents. In 1775 few of the junior officers in the British regiments in America had ever heard a shot fired in combat, and most of the senior officers had little combat experience beyond the lower field grades. The Continental commanders had an advantage in their more flexible approach to the art of war. Aware that they had much to learn, they tended to approach problems with a less rigid attitude. In effect, they “grew into their jobs.”

Washington, in cooperation with Congress, worked during 1775 to impose unity and cohesion on the several armies he found at Boston. His task was made somewhat easier by the relative homogeneity of the New England colonies and by their long tradition of military cooperation. He made progress in creating a functional staff. Brigades, divisions, and separate territorial departments would form the pattern of Continental Army command organization throughout the war; all three echelons emerged in 1775. At the end of the year he was concerned particularly to continue fostering a sense of common identity and to standardize regimental organization. He also now turned to the task of reenlisting his soldiers directly under Continental auspices and reorganizing them into a genuinely Continental institution.