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The Continental Army, Chapter I

time—that of general, colonel, and captain. Rather than assigning an extra lieutenant to each field officer’s company, as Rhode Island did, Connecticut merely designated the senior lieutenant in each colonel’s company as a captain-lieutenant. On the other hand, the Connecticut organization called for each company to contain four officers rather than the three the other New England jurisdictions provided. The assembly appointed Joseph Spencer and Israel Putnam brigadier generals and David Wooster major general. It assigned supply responsibilities to Joseph Trumbull, another of the governor’s sons, by appointing him commissary general.

After a recess the assembly reconvened on 11 May and remained in session for the rest of the month, passing legislation that resolved a number of logistical, administrative, and disciplinary problems. It defined the regimental adjutant as a distinct officer. It also appointed Samuel Mott as the colony’s engineer, with the rank of lieutenant colonel, and ordered him to Fort Ticonderoga. This session created a Committee of Safety, also known as the Committee of Defense or the Committee of War, which served for the rest of the war as the governor’s executive and advisory body. The assembly considered, but rejected, reorganizing the six regiments into eight to bring the size of these units more into conformity with that of the regiments from the other colonies. Another special session (1-6 July) added two more regiments, but these were smaller than the earlier ones. The assembly reduced the number of privates in these regiments by nearly a third, while retaining their same organization and superstructure, and then ordered both to Boston.

Deployment of the Connecticut regiments followed a pattern established during the colonial period. In the Imperial Wars the colony had been responsible for reinforcing its neighbors, supporting New York on the northern frontier around Albany and assuming primary responsibility for the defense of western Massachusetts. In 1775 Spencer’s 2d and Putnam’s 3d Connecticut Regiments, raised in the northeastern and north-central portions of the colony, naturally marched to Boston. Samuel Parsons’ 6th, from the southeast, followed as soon as the vital port of New London was secure. Benjamin Hinman’s 4th, from Litchfield County in the northwest, went to Fort Ticonderoga, where the county’s men had served in earlier wars. The 1st under Wooster and the 5th under David Waterbury, from Fairfield and New Haven Counties, respectively, in the southwest, prepared to secure New York City.26 News of the battle of Bunker Hill led Governor Trumbull to place the men in Massachusetts temporarily under the command of General Ward. At the same time the 1st and 5th regiments were ordered into New York, subject to the orders of the Continental Congress and the New York Provincial Congress.

Although the three other New England colonies, in responding to Massachusetts’ plan for a joint army, experienced delays in fielding their regiments, these delays turned out to be a blessing. The regiments were formed in a rational manner that avoided the confusion that had plagued Massachusetts’ efforts. Only the 1st New Hampshire Regiment, organized from the volunteers at Boston, experienced the same organizational troubles the Massachusetts regiments did.

26. Richard H. Marcus, “The Connecticut Valley: A Problem in Intercolonial Defense,” Military Affairs 33 (1969):230-42; Marcus A. McCorison, “Colonial Defense of the Upper Connecticut Valley,” Vermont History, n.s., 30 (1962):50-62. Some companies were diverted to sectors other than their regiment’s to meet immediate needs.

For all these New England troops, however, arms and ammunition were in short supply even though efforts had been made to accumulate them. The available weapons were mostly English military muskets—known colloquially as Tower or Brown Bess muskets—left over from earlier wars, and domestically manufactured hunting weapons. The scarcity of gunpowder, lead (for musket balls), and paper (for cartridges) was severe. These shortages were immediate and severely limited the operations of the New England troops. It would take years for the domestic arms industry to become established despite the best efforts of local governments. In the interim, imports from France, other European nations, and Mexico City were needed.27

The New England army that assembled around Boston in the aftermath of Lexington and Concord reflected, in its modifications of European military institutions, nearly two centuries of American colonial experience. Its emergence was a microcosm of the evolution of colonial military institutions. The common colonial heritage explains why the four colonies adopted organizational patterns that were very similar; particular experiences and individual backgrounds account for the variations.

The initial American response to the possibility of armed confrontation with British authorities had been a strengthening of the militia. Each colony took steps to replace aged or unreliable leaders and to reorganize units for greater efficiency. Training was increased. By 1775 most colonies were able to restore the militia to a degree of defensive competence not seen for a century or more. As the crisis worsened, American leaders moved beyond the basic militia. They began to prepare provisional militia units that could muster at short notice and remain in the field for longer periods. Whether volunteer companies or minutemen, these units were a response to the same need to minimize economic disruption that seventeenth century colonists had faced. The New England army that came into being at the instigation of Massachusetts moved a step beyond the minutemen. Like its Provincial model, this regional force was composed of regiments standing apart from the militia system, although drawing heavily on it for its recruits.

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress had set the minimum force needed to meet the British threat at some 30,000 men. By July a substantial portion of that total had assembled around Boston.28 Not counting artillery and several regiments that had not reported to Boston, the New England force consisted of 26 infantry regiments from Massachusetts and 3 each from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. On paper these units had 99 field officers, 866 company and 144 staff officers, and 18,538 enlisted men. This total was more than 2,500 men below authorized levels. More importantly, it included 1,600 sick and almost 1,500 on furlough or detached duty. These regiments were still only partially organized. Only nine from Massachusetts had

27. David Lewis Salay, “Arming for War: The Production of War Material in Pennsylvania for the American Armies of the Revolution” (Ph.D. diss., University of Delaware, 1977), pp. 165-204; James Allen Lewis, “New Spain During the American Revolution, 1779-1783: A Viceroyalty at War” (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1975), p. 52; Orlando W. Stephenson, “The Supply of Gunpowder in 1776,” American Historical Review 30 (1925):271-81; and Neil L. York, “Clandestine Aid and the American Revolutionary War Effort: A Re-Examination,” Military Affairs 43 (1979):26-30.
28. Record Group (RG) 93, National Archives (general return, main army, 19 July 1775).

reached a paper strength of 95 percent; five were below 80 percent of their authorized levels and were, therefore, of questionable combat value.

These deficiencies were due in part to the lack of any centralized control over the army, or, rather, the collection of separate armies. The forces raised by each of the New England colonies in response to Massachusetts’ call for assistance arrived piecemeal and were assigned positions and responsibilities around Boston according to the needs of the moment. The only coordination was furnished by a committee form of leadership. The Massachusetts commanders established a council of war on 20 April, and senior officers from the other colonies joined it as they arrived. Although it worked closely with the Massachusetts civil authorities, the council did not really command; it merely worked out consensus views. In practice this arrangement not only prevented effective planning but blocked the individual regiments from making their needs known. Incomplete information proved to be a major problem in the early months of the Boston siege.29

On 17 June the regional army fought its first engagement, a battle which revealed its weaknesses and its strengths. The council of war decided to apply pressure on the Boston garrison by occupying dominating hills on Charlestown Peninsula. It did not prepare an adequate plan, committing units piecemeal without sufficient ammunition or a clearly delineated chain of command. The British decided to launch a frontal assault in the hope of demoralizing the New Englanders. From the security of hasty fieldworks the defenders shattered two attacks with accurate musketry. A third assault drove them from the peninsula. Sir William Howe, staggered by a 42 percent casualty rate, realized he could not afford to let the colonists again fight from prepared positions since that advantage compensated for many of their weaknesses. He reported to his superiors in London after the battle: “When I look to the consequences of it, in the loss of so many brave Officers, I do it with horror—The Success is too dearly bought.”30

The New England army had been defeated, although it had inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. The colonists had to find solutions to the problems highlighted by the battle, but it was already clear that these solutions required a national army. The search turned to Philadelphia where the Continental Congress was in session.

29. William Henshaw, The orderly book of Colonel William Henshaw, of the American army, April 20-September 26, 1775 (Boston: A. Williams, 1881), pp. 13-39.
30. John Fortescue, ed., The Correspondence of King George the Third from 1760 to December 1783, 2d ed., 6 vols. (London: Frank Cass & Co., 1967), 3:220-24.