Affiliate Link

The Continental Army, Chapter III

PHILIP VAN CORTLANDT (1749-1803) was the son of New York’s deputy governor and first joined the Army in 1775 as the lieutenant colonel of the 4th New York Regiment. He rose to the rank of colonel and served in Congress from 1793 to 1809. (Portrait attributed to James Sharples, Sr.)

sisting of the 2d and 5th (New Hampshire) Continental Regiments, the 2d New Jersey Regiment, and the 4th (less some elements) and 6th Pennsylvania Battalions. He found that Thomas himself had been stricken with smallpox on 21 May and had temporarily relinquished command to Thompson. When Thomas died on 2 June, Sullivan inherited command of the department.46

The arrival of a British relief force under Maj. Gen. John Burgoyne, consisting of regulars from Britain, Brunswick, and Hesse-Hanau, forced the Continentals to abandon the siege of Quebec in early May 1776. After a slow withdrawal, the main body of Sullivan’s troops arrived back at Crown Point on 1 July. American hopes of making Canada the fourteenth colony had ended in failure. The effort probably had been beyond the Continental Army’s logistical capability; it certainly had ruined many regiments. A dispirited Sullivan complained that “I am Sufficiently mortified and Sincerely wish I had never seen this fatal country.”47

Congress had reacted to the deteriorating situation in Canada before Sullivan’s withdrawal. A special diplomatic mission to Canada—delegates Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase and two leading Maryland Catholics, Charles and John Carroll—had conducted extensive discussions with American military leaders there in the late spring. Their report led to major command changes. On 17 June Congress appointed Horatio Gates as the new commanding general of “the Troops of the United Colonies in Canada” and endowed him with extensive emergency powers to reorganize the department staff and suspend incompetent officers. His selection was based both on his reputation as an organizer and administrator and on various political considerations reflecting the increased role of New England forces in a region initially considered

46. JCC, 4:236, 302; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 4:495-97, 500, 519-21, 526, 531; 5:15, 132-33; Sullivan, Letters and Papers, 1:212-14.
47. Sullivan, Letters and Papers, 1:242-43, 250-54, 271-77; Bush, Revolutionary Enigma: A Re-appraisal of Genera/ Philip Schuyler, pp. 56-62.

New York’s responsibility. Gates arrived at Crown Point on 5 July and relieved Sullivan. Since Gates commanded a territorial department that no longer existed, on 8 July Congress ruled that he came under Schuyler’s command.48

Schuyler allowed Gates a large measure of autonomy by keeping his own headquarters at Albany and concentrating on logistics and affairs in the Mohawk Valley. Gates’ “Northern Army” contained the majority of the department’s combat troops and had the task of developing a fortress complex in the Ticonderoga area. Benedict Arnold and David Waterbury, who had commanded ships as civilians, commanded the Lake Champlain naval squadron. On 20 July Gates created a brigade structure for the units at Ticonderoga. Following the advice of his senior officers and relying on his own experience at Boston, he organized his four brigades by grouping units from the same or adjacent colonies to minimize friction. Arnold, the only brigadier general, commanded one brigade. The others were under three senior colonels: James Reed (replaced later by John Paterson), John Stark, and Arthur St. Clair.49

Congress also formed two new units for the Northern Department from veterans of 1775. On 21 June 1776 it ordered New York to raise another regiment. Unlike earlier units, this regiment was enlisted for three years’ service. Maj. Lewis Dubois of John Nicholson’s regiment received the command, but disputes over the appointment of officers and seniority prevented the regiment from becoming fully operational. Congress authorized the second regiment, also for three years, on 5 July. Its cadre, Seth Warner’s Green Mountain Boys, had begun reorganizing in early February. A shortage of cash limited Warner’s recruiting until November.50

Knox’s Artillery Regiment was designed to support only the Main Army. Separate companies performed the same mission for Schuyler. The remnants of John Lamb’s 1775 company voluntarily reenlisted under Lt. Isaiah Wool. They were reinforced in the spring by Ebenezer Stevens’ and Benjamin Eustis’ companies of Knox’s regiment, Capt. John Bigelow’s company (in Burrall’s regiment), and a Pennsylvania company. That colony had misinterpreted a congressional resolution and had directed Bernard Romans, an engineer, to recruit an artillery company for service in Canada. Congress accepted it, however, and it marched north under Capt.-Lt. Gibbs Jones. New York also raised two new artillery companies in New York City, nominally in support of Schuyler. Sebastian Bauman’s was a Continental unit created to garrison the fortifications in the Hudson Highlands. Alexander Hamilton’s company of state troops spent most of 1776 under Knox’s operational control, and on 17 March 1777 it formally transferred to the Continental Army.51

48. JCC, 4:151-52, 215-19, 233; 5:436, 448-53, 526; Burnett, Letters of Congress, 1:486-87; 2:16-17, 29-34; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 5:173-75, 547-51; Sullivan, Letters and Papers, 1:280-82. The political problems resulting from the appointment of Gates are discussed in Rossie, Politics of Command, pp. 97134, and Henderson, Party Politics in the Continental Congress, pp. 112-17.
49. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 5:222-24, 257; Gates, General Orders for 20 Jut and 11 Aug 76, Gates’ Orderly Book; Gates to Hancock, 16 and 29 Jul and 6 Aug 76, and Colonel Hartley to Gates, 10 Jul 76, Gates Papers.
50. JCC, 4:177; 5:471-72, 479, 481, 518-19, 761; Burnett, Letters of Congress, 1:506-7, 510-13; Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 4:588-89, 852-53, 1131; 5th ser., 1:717, 1390-99; Nathan Clark to Schuyler, 16 Jul 76, and Warner to Gates, 26 Apr 77, Gates Papers.

51. JCC, 3:309; 4:74, 99; Force, American Archives, 4th ser., 3:1289-90, 1315-16; 4:1026, 1058, 1068, 1567-69; 5:303, 316, 378, 389-90, 536, 730-32, 1416, 1436; 6:1336, 1339, 1412; 5th ser., 1:660-61, 1509; W. T. R. Saffell, Records of the Revolutionary War, 3d ed. (Baltimore: Charles E. Saffell, 1894), pp. 17881; Alexander Hamilton, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett and Jacob E. Cooke (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-), 1:187-88, 199-200.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (1706-90) became famous as a scientist, diplomat, philosopher, and politician. Me also sponsored the careers of two very important Continental Army generals: Anthony Wayne and Frederick von Steuben. (Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1772.)

The Northern Department finally stabilized during the pause in operations caused by the contest for naval control of Lake Champlain. In January 1776 Congress had planned a forward Canadian Department with nine regiments (6,500 men), supported by the Northern Department’s four regiments (2,900 men) defending the area from New York City to Lake George. By August the Canadian Department no longer existed, and the Northern Department’s responsibilities stopped just south of Albany. Its troops remained divided into two major groups: Gates’ field army garrisoning the Ticonderoga complex and Schuyler’s rear echelon sustaining communications and controlling the Mohawk Valley.52

Gates commanded a force, exclusive of artillery, of fifteen Continental infantry regiments and one separate rifle company, plus six regiments of militia. It contained 386 officers, 333 sergeants, 143 drummers and fifers, and 6,262 rank and file, a total roughly equivalent to the number Congress originally had intended for Canada. True combat strength was about 4,000 continentals, including the detachment manning the fleet on Lakes Champlain and George, because nearly 2,200 were sick, another 1,000 were on detached duties, and 185 were on furlough. Only three of the Continental regiments were over three-quarters full even on paper, and ten were between half and two-thirds complete. This shortage significantly reduced their effectiveness in open battle, but it was less of a problem in garrison. The militia added about 200 officers and over 3,500 enlisted men, most of whom were still fit.

In terms of the division of forces in the north, Gates had the six strongest regiments of those originally assigned to the Canadian garrison or added by Congress in January 1776. He also had the four regiments sent north under Thompson and five of the six that had accompanied Sullivan. Schuyler retained the four regiments which had served longest in Canada and which consequently were in the worst shape. He

52. General Return, Northern Department, 24 Aug 76, Gates Papers. This return contains complete data only for the units directly under Gates.



also had the two regiments raised by New York in the Albany region (Van Schaick’s and the 4th New York Regiment), the 3d New Jersey Regiment from Sullivan’s force, and the two new regiments just beginning their organization. Three militia regiments supplemented his troops. Schuyler had only three Continental regiments that were even reasonably effective. They certainly contained less than the 3,000 effectives he had originally been promised, but they were sufficient for his reduced defensive responsibilities.

Congress and the Continental Army’s leaders worked closely together during the autumn of 1775 to prepare for the coming year. They hoped to eliminate problems revealed during the preceding months and to make the transition smooth. The cornerstone of the effort was Congress’ approval of a standard infantry regiment designed by Washington and his generals to be a very powerful force with a streamlined organization. Unlike the British Army, which had been heavily influenced by the Seven Years’ War in Europe, the Continental Army reflected Anglo-American experiences in the French and Indian War. The standard regiment’s high ratio of officers to enlisted men recognized the greater need for control under American conditions than under European. The organization and use of the two-rank battle formation emphasized American faith in musketry rather than shock action.

Adoption of the standard regiment solved one problem revealed during 1775, but reorganization raised new difficulties. Both Washington and Schuyler hoped to emphasize national identification by mingling personnel from several colonies in each regiment. Opposition from officers and men alike ended that concept. A far greater source of trouble was that regiments in 1776 fell short of their authorized strength. Few regiments ever reached their legal maximum size, and many took a long time to achieve minimum efficiency.

Washington’s Main Army at Boston was able to survive the crisis created by slow enlistments by calling on a sizable militia contingent. Slow but steady recruiting raised his army by March to a level where it could begin to apply pressure on General Howe in Boston. British evacuation of the town on 17 March gave the Commander in Chief his first victory. By contrast, defeat marked the American military effort in Canada during the first half of 1776. Reinforcements of continentals were dispatched several times, but Governor Carleton’s British and German regulars still drove the field army of the Canadian Department all the way back to Ticonderoga. In addition, many of the units sent north were badly weakened by attrition and disease. The main focus of events now shifted back to the Main Army.