Affiliate Link

The Continental Army: Chapter VI

mine seniority. Lamb’s became the 2d Continental Artillery Regiment; Crane’s, the 3d.77

At Valley Forge Knox stabilized the weapons of the artillery arm. He planned to have four brass 3- or 6-pounders for each brigade. An artillery park for general support contained two 24-pounders, four 12-pounders, four 8-inch and eight 5.5-inch howitzers, and ten smaller fieldpieces. An unmanned reserve of 24-, 12-, 6-, and 3-pounders moved with the Main Army’s trains, while a siege train of heavy iron guns and mortars stayed at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Springfield, Massachusetts. French imports, captured British guns, and pieces produced in America, all mounted on Muller-style carriages, produced a surplus of weapons by 1178. That condition forced Knox to abandon plans in 1780 to make the French 4-pounder (which most efficiently combined mobility and power) the standard fieldpiece because he could not waste the stores on hand for 6- and 3-pounders.78 Companies rotated between brigades, large garrisons, and the artillery park for different types of training. Knox established a program of instruction and endorsed the theory that field artillery should avoid artillery duels and concentrate instead on infantry targets. During the battle of Monmouth this tactic proved so effective that Washington proudly claimed that “the Enemy have done them [the Artillery officers] the Justice to acknowledge that no Artillery could be better served.”79

Forage problems in late 1778 forced Washington to disperse the light dragoon regiments, which never assembled as a brigade again. Serious shortages of men and horses also were factors. Washington considered, but abandoned, the idea of arming the troopers with blunderbusses in 1779 to increase their firepower. Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge of the 2d Continental Light Dragoons made a more practical suggestion. Since new recruits were easier to obtain than mount, he suggested that they be equipped temporarily as infantry. Washington ordered the 2d to implement this plan on 14 August 1779, and on 24 September he told Col. Stephen Moylan’s 4th to do the same. The 1st and 3d Continental Light Dragoon Regiments transferred to the Southern Department in 1779 and operated under Lt. Col. William Washington as a composite mounted unit throughout the remaining southern campaigns.80

Implementing the 27 May 1778 resolve took a year and produced major changes only in the infantry regiments. Steuben’s Blue Book and other improvements in training and support increased the effectiveness of both officers and men and partially compensated for the weaknesses inherent in the new regimental structure. The artillery merely improved on established practices, and the mounted arm and the partisans

77. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 12:458-59; 15:170-71; 16:76, 173; Lamb Papers (Doughty to Lamb, 27 Jan 78; Oswald to Lamb, 7 Jun 78; Charles Thomson to Arnold (copy), 29 Aug 78; Lamb to Washington, 12 Mar 79, crane to Washington (copy), 16 Mar 79; Lamb to Board of General Officers, 6 Aug 79; Board of General Officers, Report, (8 Aug 79); Ebenezer Stevens Papers (Knox to Stevens, 7 Jan 78), New-York Historical Society.
78. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 10:486-87, 11:112-13; 13:317-18; 14:329; 18:244-45; 21:24; Lamb Papers (Knox to Lamb, 19 Jul 78; Lamb to Udny Hay and to George Mavins, both 1 Jun 78); Bauman Papers (to Lamb, 25 Jun 79); Steuben Papers (Knox to Board of war (copy), 1 Mar 80).
79. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 12:131; see also 13:418; 15:187, 429-30; 17:215-16; Lamb Papers (to Knox, 30 Apt 78; Knox to Lamb, it May 78, 29 Jun 79, 31 Jul 80, 1 and 3 Aug 80; Oswald to Lamb, 7 Jun 78; Samuel Shaw to Lamb, 3 Jul 79); Artillery Brigade Orderly Books (Artillery Brigade Orders, 25 Aug 78); Uhlendorf, Revolution in America, pp. 189-93.
80. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 13:207-8, 219-20, 284, 339-40; 14:302-3, 331, 390, 469; 15:121-22; 16:93-95, 329-30; 17:135-36, 211-13; JCC, 14:560.

reverted to a reconnaissance role. The permanent brigade consisting of several infantry regiments and an artillery company remained the basic tactical element of the Continental Army. Washington improved it by adding to the specialized staff serving the brigade commander. The brigade inspector, functioning as chief of staff, controlled a maintenance section under a conductor of military stores, a logistical section under a brigade quartermaster and a brigade commissary, and an administrative section. The division, less permanent, had a comparable staff.81

During that same period, the Army’s territorial department structure stabilized.82 Washington exercised effective control over all operations outside the south. The Main Army continued to function as the principal force in the Middle Department, although several detachments carried out missions there as well. The Northern Department and the Highlands Department remained as distinct commands but operated in close conjunction with the Main Army. The Northern Department normally contained the equivalent of a reinforced brigade; the Highlands Department, a reinforced division. The Eastern Department kept watch over the British in Newport with a field army of New England militia and state troops reinforced by one or more Continental brigades. The newest territorial department, established in 1777, was the Western Department. It protected the western frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, but it received only two regiments in 1778 and remained a minor command.83 Through 1778 the Southern Department contained essentially only Georgia and South Carolina units.

By July 1779 the Continental Army had achieved the status of a competent, well-trained force. Excluding the two thousand or so effectives in the Southern Department and a handful of regiments in isolated frontier garrisons in the Northern and Western Departments, Washington had about 25,000 officers and mend The Main Army and the Highlands Department consisted of thirteen brigades stationed near New York and four engaged in Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s expedition against Indians in the Mohawk Valley. The infantry contingents available for combat in each of these 17 brigades averaged about 65 officers, 80 sergeants, 50 drummers and fifers, and 1,000 rank and file. The aggregate infantry strength included 107 field, 737 company, and 260 staff officers, 1,409 sergeants, and 871 drummers and fifers fit and present with their regiments. Another 78 field, 629 company, and 51 staff officers and 492 sergeants, drummers, and fifers were sick, held prisoner, or detached. Nearly 14,000 rank and file were on duty with the line companies; most of the 2,600 others “on command” served with the Light Corps. Less than 2,000 rank and file were sick. The force in Rhode Island contained 142 infantry officers and 2,255 enlisted men. Artillery with the Main Army and the Highlands and Eastern Departments accounted for another 200 or so officers and almost 2,000 men. Together, these troops represented a sizable

81. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 15:101-3, 362-63; Idzerda, Lafayette, 1:193-94.
82. Lamb Papers (Knox to Lamb, 22 Aug 80); Gates Papers (Lovell to Gates, 23 May 77).
83. JCC, 7:247-49; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 11:439-41; 12:200-201; Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg, eds., Frontier Defense on the Upper Ohio, 1777-1778 (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society; 1912), pp. 1-3.
84. RG 360, National Archives (Lincoln to Congress, 1 Sep 79); RG 93, National Archives (Monthly Return, Main Army, Jul 1779). Lesser, Sinews, pp. 124-26, prints a variation of this return.

combat force, although they probably totaled only half the authorized strength. Congress’ policy of using line officers to perform staff duties at echelons above the regiment, a measure designed to cut costs, diverted 13 field and 209 company officers, a significant reduction of Washington’s resources in battle. Doctrine and training maximized the usefulness of the troops that Washington and Congress did have, but quota deficiencies remained a pressing problem.

After Monmouth, units in the northern half of the country saw limited combat. Various successful engagements between portions of the Main Army and the enemy underscored the value of the professional skills that Washington and Steuben had nurtured. In 1779 operations against the Iroquois Indians by General Sullivan and a nighttime bayonet assault on Stony Point demonstrated the Army’s flexibility. The battles at Springfield, New Jersey, in 1780, moreover, proved conclusively that a single brigade with a self-contained organization could successfully stand off a superior force until the rest of the Main Army could arrive.85

On 18 January 1778 Capt. Johann Heinrichs of the Hesse-Cassel Jaeger Corps commented in a letter to the Hessian Minister of State that the continentals were not “to be despised [for it only] requires Time and good leadership to make them formidable.”86 His observation was prophetic, for the Continental Army came of age between 1778 and 1780. Regiments trained by Washington and Steuben continued to suffer from shortages in personnel, but they fought well under a variety of conditions. The Army’s organization achieved sophistication; its leadership down to the company level grew experienced, tough, and competent. The “Europeanization” of the Continental Army reflected the contributions of foreign volunteers and also the wisdom of Washington and other American leaders in selecting only those concepts that would work in America.

85. Washington’s use of the brigade in this manner was identical to the prescribed role of the division in Guibert’s writings and of the corps in Napoleon’s operations.
86. Johann Heinrichs, “Extracts From the Letter-Book of Captain Johann Heinrichs of the Hessian Jaeger Corps, 1778-1780,” trans. Julius F. Sachse, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 22 (1898):137-40.