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The Continental Army: Chapter VI

CASIMIR PULASKI (ca. 1748-79) was a flamboyant cavalryman from Poland who served as commander of horse at Trenton during the 1777-78 winter with the rank of brigadier general He died of wounds received at Savannah in 1779 while leading his legion. (Portrait by Julian Rys, 1897.)

eign volunteer who could upgrade the effectiveness of the mounted arm in the same way that Duportail was improving the engineers. Casimir Pulaski, a Pole, consequently became Commander of Horse and a brigadier general. Shortly thereafter Francois-Louis Teisseidre, the Marquis de Fleury, assumed the position of brigade major for the light dragoons, and the four regiments went into winter quarters at Trenton. Washington and Pulaski used the winter to begin transforming the troopers into an offensive force. Pulaski established a riding school to train the horses and men in European shock action, including cut-and-thrust saber tactics. The large organization approved by Congress on 27 May 1778 reflected a desire to implement this transition. Unfortunately, Pulaski clashed with his American officers and resigned as Commander of Horse on 28 March 1778. Washington never found a replacement, and the strategic changes after Monmouth led him to restore the light dragoons to a reconnaissance role.31

Although the light dragoons did not develop into a European-style cavalry force, the Continental Army introduced a number of other light units patterned after the European partisan corps, which had emerged in the Seven Years’ War. The partisan corps, or legion, was a recent European development designed primarily to conduct raids on enemy rear areas. Maj. Nicholas Dietrich, Baron de Ottendorf, a Saxon veteran of the Prussian Army, commanded the first of these units. On 5 December 1776 Congress ordered him to recruit one company of chasseurs (light infantry) and two of jaegers (riflemen). A fourth company was added in April 1777. Most of the officers were foreign volunteers, but the enlisted men came from the German-American community. After Ottendorf deserted, Congress placed Col. Charles Armand Tuffin, the Marquis de la Rouerie (known in America as Colonel Armand), in command. It also

31. JCC, 8:745; 12:897, 941; Burnett, Letters, 3:408; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 7:51, 190-91; 9:143-44, 305; 10:234-36; 11:446; 12:228, 276, 490; 13:14-15; Samuel Hay to William Irvine, 14 Nov 77, Historical Magazine 3 (1859):283; Gates Papers (to Washington, 23 May 78; Benjamin Tallmadge to Gates, 1 Jun 78).

told him to raise a partisan corps of 200 Frenchmen on 19 May, but he did not fill it in


When General Pulaski resigned his command, Congress allowed him to raise an “independent corps.” It consisted of a troop of 68 lancers and 200 light infantry organized into a legion. The cadre for the troop came from light dragoons he had trained at Trenton. Congress authorized another independent corps on 7 April 1778 to reward Capt. Henry Lee for excellent service on the lines around Philadelphia. It promoted Lee to major, withdrew his troop from the 1st Continental Light Dragoons, and expanded it first into two troops and then into three on 28 May. Lee used the small light dragoon organization of 1777, which was appropriate for reconnaissance. Armand finally recruited his Free and Independent Chasseurs after Congress approved an organization for it on 25 June 1778. It consisted of three large companies based on Marshal Maurice de Saxe’s concept of the legion. Each contained 4 officers, 8 noncommissioned officers, 2 drummers (or horn players), and 128 privates.33

At the end of 1778 the Main Army had three partisan corps. Lee’s, an American force, was entirely mounted; Pulaski’s (usually operating with the remnants of Ottendorf’s companies) was a combined arms unit; and Armand’s consisted entirely of infantry. Pulaski’s and Armand’s corps contained large foreign contingents. When Washington and Congress concluded that the most efficient partisan organization contained balanced numbers of mounted and dismounted men, Congress annexed Capt. Allen McLane’s infantry company (formerly of Patton’s Additional Regiment) to Lee on 13 July 1779. On 14 February 1780 it added seventy more men to form a total of three dismounted troops. The success of this experiment led Congress to rescind an earlier directive disbanding Pulaski’s corps and to consolidate it with Armand’s on 23 February.34

Congress authorized a special mounted police unit, the Marechaussee Corps, on 27 May 1778. It also had European rather than Anglo-American precedents. It consisted of 5 officers, 1 clerk, 8 noncommissioned officers, 2 trumpeters, and 47 privates (including 4 who served as executioners). The corps assisted the provost marshal in maintaining order in camp and on the march. In combat it took station behind the Second Line to secure the rear and to prevent desertion. Capt. Bartholomew Von Heer, a Prussian veteran, recruited the corps in the Pennsylvania-German communities of Berks and Lancaster Counties. It contributed to the general improvement in the Army’s internal order and discipline.35

Another police-type unit, created in 1779, assumed responsibility for guarding prisoners of war, a function previously performed by militia. When Burgoyne surrendered, the “Saratoga Convention” stipulated that his troops had to leave North America and not return unless exchanged. When the British failed to honor some of the

32. JCC, 6:1007; 7:186, 346; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 6:324: 8:91-92, 224-26; 9:162; New-York Historical Society Collections for 1915, pp. 566-69; Saffell, Records of the Revolutionary War pp. 219-21.
33. JCC, 10:291, 294, 314-15, 364; 11:545, 642-45. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 11:80-82, 205-6, 230; 12:15253, 470; 13:41-43. Gates Papers to Washington, 24 Jun and 13 Jul 78.
34. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 14:65, 74-79; 15:233, 242, 345; 17:450-52, 496-97; JCC, 13:132, 143, 181; 14:822-23; 15:1418; 16:159, 187; Burnett, Letters, 4:45, 55, 58-59, 67; Gates Papers (Armand to Gates, 25 Jul 80).
35. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 11:443; 12:26-27, 241; 13:61-63, 68-70; 19:41; JCC, 11:541, 729; Steuben Papers (Von Heer to Steuben, 31 Dec 79).

BENJAMIN FLOWER (1748-81) served as commissary general of military stores and as commander of the Artillery Artificer Regiment with the rank of lieutenant colonel He was a native of Philadelphia. (Portrait attributed to James Peale.)

minor provisions of the agreement, Congress suspected that the regiments would in fact not be sent to Europe once they were released and therefore detained them. In the fall of 1778 they were transferred from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Charlottesville, Virginia, for security reasons.36 Instead of using militia guards, on 23 December 1778 Virginia decided to raise a 600-man regiment under former Continental officers. Congress modified Virginia’s plan somewhat when it adopted this Regiment of Guards on 9 January 1779. It remained under the control of the governor, rather than the Southern Department. The regiment disbanded in stages between 10 April and 9 June 1781 when the “Convention Army” moved to Maryland.37

The Corps of Invalids was a specialized unit established in 1777. The British Army used separate companies of men not fit for field duty to garrison fortifications in the home islands. The Continental Army, reflecting its growing professionalism, turned to a similar organization to free combat units from defending depots not in immediate danger. On 20 June 1777 Congress authorized Col. Lewis Nicola, a strong proponent of the concept, to organize the corps. It had the additional mission of recruiting and training replacements. Congress directed Nicola to set up a “Military School for Young Gentlemen” within the regiment to train ensigns for ultimate assignment to line units. He recruited at Philadelphia during the summer and added a detachment at Boston the following winter. The corps never fulfilled its training function, but it performed valuable garrison duty, especially at West Point, until the end of the war.38

The growing sophistication of the Continental Army, inspired in part by foreign volunteers, was reflected also in improvements introduced in 1778 and 1779 in the organization of supporting troops. Following the death of General Coudray on 17 September 1777, Washington, Knox, and Commissary General of Military Stores Benjamin Flower moved to upgrade the Army’s ordnance staff. On 11 November Congress approved the addition of two more artillery artificer companies. Washington and Knox hoped to group the four companies into a regiment for better administration and then to assign detachments to each division at the start of the 1778 campaign to perform small arms maintenance. On 11 February 1778 Congress consolidated responsibility for ordnance, munitions, military equipment, and repair of weapons under Flower, who also became colonel of the new Artillery Artificer Regiment. The two old and the two new companies were joined in the spring by a fifth, and the regiment later absorbed Lt. Col. Ebenezer Stevens’ maintenance company when that unit joined the Main Army in August 1778. The regiment’s officers held special commissions

36. JCC, 9:1058-64; 10:13-17; 12:902, 1016-18; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 10:10,56-58; 13:131-32, 218-20, 274-75, 289-91, 308, 311-13; Smith, Letters of Delegates, 2:436. The British had violated a similar agreement, the Convention of Kloster Kampen, in the Seven Years’ War.
37. JCC, 13:42-43; Jefferson, Papers, 3:155-56, 191-92; 4:252-53, 565, 603-5; 5:147, 333-34, 408-9, 426-28, 661-62; 6:66-67; Henry Read McIlwaine, ed., Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia, 3 vols., (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1926-29), 1:347-49, 355; Burnett, Letters, 6:5, 99-100; Steuben Papers (Return, 1 Dec 80); Palmer, Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 2:574.
38. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 9:28-29, 283-84; 10:11, 152; 12:69, 280; 22:121, 236-42; JCC, 7:288-89; 8:485-86, 554-56; RG 360, National Archives (Nicola to Congress, 2 Oct 77); Lewis Nicola, “Unpublished Letters of Colonel Lewis Nicola, Revolutionary Soldier,” ed. Howard R. Marraro, Pennsylvania History, 13 (1946):274. Nicola had gained a national reputation as a military expert because of his translation of Chevalier de Clairac’s L’Ingenieur de Campagne; or, Field Engineer (Philadelphia: R. Aitken, 1776) and his own A Treatise of Military Exercise, Calculated for the Use of Americans (Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1776).

which restricted their authority to the regiment; this provision was wise since they were really supervisory technicians.39

Congress did not make the Department of Military Stores subordinate to Knox, as Washington had wished. It remained under the Board of War’s supervision. Repeated pressure produced a compromise on 18 February 1779 when Congress created the additional position of Field Commissary of Military Stores to directly support the Main Army. With ordnance officials’ cooperation, artillery officers received technical training at ordnance depots. Another new office, the surveyor of ordnance, in theory allowed the artillery colonels, on a rotating basis, to make the technical service more responsive to the needs of the troops in the field. John Lamb, the colonel with the greatest technical proficiency, however, served as surveyor for the rest of the war.40

During the summer of 1778 Washington returned to a concept used in 1776 but discarded in 1777. The skilled workmen serving the Quartermaster General now assembled again as “companies,” or work crews, under the supervision of Col. Jeduthan Baldwin. Baldwin demonstrated an aptitude for supervising construction parties, and the assignment conveniently precluded the possibility that he might quarrel with the French engineers. These artificers carried out construction at West Point, maintained wheeled vehicles, and mended roads as pioneers during marches. When the Artillery Artificer Regiment proved successful, Congress directed Washington on 11 November 1779 to arrange Baldwin’s companies into a permanent Quartermaster Artificer Regiment. Its officers were under most of the same restrictions as Flower’s, and the regiment ultimately contained nine companies.41

The foreign volunteers who arrived in America after 1776 contributed in important ways to the developing sophistication of the Continental Army. Washington and Congress began planning improvements in various areas as early as the winter of 1776-77, but they could not act until volunteers with necessary technical skills became available. The most immediate impact was the emergence of an engineer service, both combat and topographical. The former was staffed almost exclusively with foreigners; the latter was inspired by the French Army, although American experience in surveying also shaped its work. European concepts of cavalry combat did not prove successful, but foreign volunteers added several contingents of light troops to the Army. Among the special supporting units that Washington and Congress formed during 1778-79, the Marechaussee and Invalids also had foreign precedents. The greatest foreign contribution, however, came in administration and training.

The Contributions of Steuben
Foreign volunteers brought ideas recently developed by European military theorists to the attention of American officers. The volunteers thereby contributed to a professional growth already begun with the efforts of Washington and other concerned

39. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 8:8; 10:277-80; JCC, 7:179; 9:891-92; 10:119, 144-50; 15:1398-99; Artillery Brigade Orderly Books (Artillery Brigade Orders, 25 Aug 783, New-York Historical Society. The equipment of the divisional detachments included a mobile repair shop.
40. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 12:273-74; 13:489; 14:68; 15:79-80; 17:170; 20:445; JCC, 13:201-6; 17:724-25, 793; 18:1093; 25:540-41; John Lamb Letterbook (to Knox, 19 Jun 79), New-York Historical Society.
41. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 12:246-47; 13:73; 14:212; 18:1-2; JCC, 15:1261-62, 1276; 16:212; Gates Papers (Baldwin to Capt [Peter] Mills, 10 Sep 78).

HENRI BOUQUET (1719-65) was a Swiss professional soldier serving in the British Army during the French and Indian War when he helped to develop tactics of wilderness fighting that proved very influential on the later Continental Army. (Portrait by John Wollaston, ca. 1760.)

military leaders. One volunteer, Frederick Wilhelm von Steuben, played the most important role in this regard by synthesizing military concepts for Washington, training the Main Army, and creating an administrative staff of Americans and Europeans to bring uniformity and competence to the battlefield.

European military theorists had introduced ideas during the mid-eighteenth century which under Napoleon would transform warfare. The British Army, however, remained on the periphery of these developments. Maj. Gen. Humphrey Bland’s A Treatise of Military Discipline (first published in 1727) dominated British thinking through the French and Indian War. It was little more than a drill manual that reflected the practices of the Duke of Marlborough. A new drill book introduced in 1764 by Adjutant General Edward Harvey, and known colloquially as “The ’64,” replaced Bland’s. The continentals used it as an unofficial manual early in the Revolutionary War. Like its predecessor, it had limited theoretical content.42

Two exceptional British generals exerted an important influence on American thinking during the French and Indian War. Henri Bouquet (a Swiss serving in the British Army) and John Forbes, faced with the problem of operating with a regular army in the North American wilderness, used Lancelot, Comte Turpin de Crisse’s Commentaires and Marshal Saxe’s Reveries for inspiration. Those French writers had argued that Roman history demonstrated that regular line infantry could function in broken terrain if they also trained as light infantry. Forbes based his 1758 campaign, in which Washington served as a brigade commander, on this concept, and Bouquet later refined it. Bouquet’s “Reflections on War With the Savages of North America” appeared in 1765 as an appendix to William Smith’s A Historical Account of the Ex-

42. Fuller, British Light Infantry, pp. 79-86, 152-53; Ira D. Gruber, “British Strategy: The Theory and Practice of Eighteenth-Century Warfare,” in Don Higginbotham, ed., Reconsiderations on the Revolutionary War: Selected Essays (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1978), pp. 14-31; Glover, Peninsular Preparation, pp. 116-22, 194-95. Few British officers pursued independent reading to compensate for Bland’s weaknesses.