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The Continental Army, Chapter VII


army” then turned immediately to the Main Army to see how the Continentals would react.55

Alexander Hamilton, once Washington’s aide and now a delegate from New York, urged Washington to use the Army’s demands to push Congress toward strengthening the national government. Joseph Jones, a more moderate delegate from Virginia, gave the Commander in Chief a clearer picture of Congress’ financial problems. He also warned Washington that “the ambition of some, and the pressure of distress in others; may produce dangerous combinations …. If there are men in the army who harbour wicked designs, and are determined to blow the coals of discord, they will greatly endeavour to hurt the reputation of those adverse to their projects.”56 Washington’s views were closer to those of Jones than those of Hamilton. Although he decided not to become involved openly in a political matter, he prepared to counter any actions of that small group of officers within the Army who might act. This group centered around Horatio Gates, who had rejoined the Main Army on 5 October 1782.57 In March Maj. John Armstrong, Gates’ aide, prepared an anonymous address to the Continental Army, which Gates saw and approved. This document called upon the officers to plan a course of action to pressure Congress. Armstrong later explained that the purpose of the address was

to prepare their minds for some manly, vigorous Association with the other public Creditors— but the timid wretch [Walter Stewart or John Brooks] discovered it to the only man from whom he was to have kept it, and concealed it from those to whom he had expressly engaged to make it known—to be more explicit he betrayed it to the Commander in Chief—who, agreeably according to the original plan, was not to have been consulted till some later period.58

This First Newburgh Address appeared publicly on 10 March, followed two days later by a second. Washington reacted swiftly by calling for a general assembly of officers. Although the delay would allow time for hot heads to cool, he warned Congress on 12 March, swift congressional action was needed to alleviate the underlying problems. With dramatic flair Washington dominated the officers’ meeting on 15 March. After fumbling through the first paragraph of a prepared speech, he put on a pair of glasses and murmured that not only had he grown grey in the service of his country, but now he was also going blind. The speech condemned the addresses as a call to mutiny and suggested that the author was a British agent. The officers, some in tears, quietly adopted a very moderate petition to Congress.59

The delegates overwhelmingly approved Washington’s brilliant handling of the crisis. On 22 March, the same day that Washington’s report on the officers’ meeting arrived, Congress approved the commutation plan when the Connecticut delegation

55. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 25:430-31; Charles Thomson, “The Papers of Charles Thomson, Secretary to the Continental Congress,” New-York Historical Society Collections for 1878, pp. 70-80; Burnett, Letters, 6:405-9, 514, 528, 553; 7:13-15, 29-31, 72-74; JCC, 22:424-25; 24:93-95, 145-51, 154-56, 178-79; Hamilton, Papers, 3:290-93; Joseph Jones, Letters of Joseph Jones of Virginia, ed. Worthington C. Ford (Washington: Department of State, 1889), pp. 97-103.
56. Jones, Letters, pp. 97-103. Also see Hamilton, Papers, 3:253-55.
57. Burnett, Letters, 7:27-28; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 26:185-88; Gates Papers (George Mesam to John Armstrong, 14 Sep 80 [copy]; William Clajon to Gates, 1 Mar and [11-14] Apt 81 and 10 Mar and 13 Apr 82). Clajon fed Gates poisonous comments on Washington (“George IV”) and on Washington’s supporters (“the Sanhedrin”).
58. Gates Papers (Armstrong to Gates, 22 and 29 Apr 83).
59. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 26:211-18, 222-27, 229-34, 323-25.


reversed its earlier opposition. In accepting commutation, the officers ended both any threat of a coup and the political controversy that had revolved around half-pay pensions. The resolution of this matter and the news on 12 March of a preliminary peace treaty cleared the way for Congress to dismantle the Army. Congress ordered an end to hostilities on 11 April and approved the preliminary treaty four days later. Washington began the armistice at noon on 19 April—eight years to the day after the first shots at Lexington.60

Washington and Secretary at War Lincoln promptly worked out the mechanics of disbanding the Army. Congress adopted a general resolution on 23 April that was a compromise between those members who wished a swift disbandment to reduce expenses and those who were hesitant to act until the British had evacuated their last posts. Enlistments for the duration would expire only with the ratification of a definitive treaty, but Congress allowed the Commander in Chief to furlough the troops at his discretion. He would therefore be able to recall the Army if negotiations collapsed. On 26 May Congress ordered that all men were to march home under the control of officers; at the same time, it allowed them to keep their arms as a bonus.61

Washington announced the furlough policy on 2 June 1783. General Heath supervised the arrangement of the men who were to remain in service. He completed this task on 15 June, and six days later they moved into garrison at West Point. The force consisted of an infantry contingent of 4 regiments from Massachusetts, 1 regiment from Connecticut, 5 companies from New Hampshire, 2 companies from Hazen’s regiment, and 2 companies from Rhode Island, plus 5 artillery companies: 2 from the 2d Continental Artillery Regiment and 3 from the 3d. A provisional light corps under Lt. Col. William Hull marched into Westchester County to help restore civil government in that strife-torn region. The rest of the Army, including the troops from the Southern and Western Departments, went home on furlough.62

On 17 August 1783 Washington turned command of West Point over to Maj. Gen. Henry Knox and set out for Congress.63 The previous year and a half had been trying for Washington. In 1782 he had sustained morale in the absence of military action and had honed the Main Army to a peak of training and efficiency. At Newburgh he had crushed a movement in the Army that had challenged the ideals of the Revolution. During June 1783 he had supervised the reduction of the wartime Continental Army to a small force suited to peacetime missions. Washington now turned his attention to the composition of that “peace establishment.”


Objections to a Continental Army enlisted for the duration of the war had ended in late 1776 when Congress realized that single-year regiments modeled on the Provin-

60. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 26:221-22, 263-64, 268-69, 285-93, 334-36; JCC, 24:207-10, 238-52; Burnett, Letters, 7:88-90, 93, 106-8, 110-11, 246-48, 378-88; Hamilton, Papers, 3:317-21; Christopher Collier, Connecticut in the Continental Congress (Chester, Conn.: Pequot Press, 1973), pp. 63-67.
61. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 26:330-33, 350-52, 441-43; Burnett, Letters, 7:161-62, 24:253-54, 269-71, 275-76, 358-61, 364-65, 390, 496; 25:963, 966-67.
62. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 26:448, 464-65, 471-75; 27:6-7, 10, 15, 19-20, 25-26, 32-34, 38-39; JCC, 24: 403; 2d Continental Artillery Regiment Orderly Book (Regimental Orders, 10 and 11 Jun 83), New-York Historical Society; 3d Continental Artillery Regiment Orderly Book (Regimental Orders, 8, 9, and 11 Jun 83), New-York Historical Society.
63. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 27:111.


cials of the colonial period were insufficient for a long war. Those ideological arguments resurfaced, however, during the long debate over the legality of any permanent army in peacetime. These discussions in 1783 and 1784 would color the development of the United States Army for the remainder of the century.

Planning for the transition to a peacetime force had begun in April 1783 at the request of a congressional committee chaired by Alexander Hamilton. The Commander in Chief discussed the problem with key officers before submitting the Army’s official views on 2 May. Significantly, there was a broad consensus of the basic framework among the officers. Washington’s proposal called for four components: a small regular army, a uniformly trained and organized militia, a system of arsenals, and a military academy to train the army’s artillery and engineer officers. He wanted four infantry regiments, each assigned to a specific sector of the frontier, plus an artillery regiment. His proposed regimental organizations followed Continental Army patterns but had a provision for increased strength in the event of war. Washington expected the militia primarily to provide security for the country at the start of a war until the regular army could expand—the same role it had carried out in 1775 and 1776. Steuben and Duportail submitted their own proposals to Congress for consideration.64

Although Congress declined on 12 May to make a decision on the peace establishment, it did address the need for some troops to remain on duty until the British evacuated New York City and several frontier posts. The delegates told Washington to use men enlisted for fixed terms as temporary garrisons. A detachment of those men from West Point reoccupied New York without incident on 25 November. When Steuben’s effort in July to negotiate a transfer of frontier forts with Maj. Gen. Frederick Haldimand collapsed, however, the British maintained control over them, as they would into the 1790’s. That failure and the realization that most of the remaining infantrymen’s enlistments were due to expire by June 1784 led Washington to order Knox, his choice as the commander of the peacetime army, to discharge all but 500 infantry and 100 artillerymen before winter set in. The former regrouped as Jackson’s Continental Regiment under Col. Henry Jackson of Massachusetts. The single artillery company, New Yorkers under John Doughty, came from remnants of the 2d Continental Artillery Regiment.65

Congress issued a proclamation on 18 October 1783 which approved Washington’s reductions. On 2 November Washington then released his Farewell Order to the Philadelphia newspapers for nationwide distribution to the furloughed men. In the message he thanked the officers and men for their assistance and reminded them that

the singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the Armies of the U[nited] States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.66

64. Hamilton, Papers, 3:317-22; Burnett, Letters, 7:150; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 26:315-16, 355, 374-98, 479, 483-96; Kite, Duportail, pp. 263-70; Steuben Papers (undated 1783 memorandum). Other officers submitting opinions to Washington include Armand, Heath, Knox, Jean Baptiste Obrey de Gouvion, Rufus Putnam, Ebenezer Huntington, and Governor George Clinton.
65. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 26:368-69, 399-400, 480; 27:16-18, 61-63, 120-21, 221, 255-59, 278-79; JCC, 24:337; Magazine of American History 9 (1883):254-55; Bauman Papers (to George Clinton, 22 Aug 83).
66. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 27:223.


THE RESIGNATION OF WASHINGTON. John Trumbull finished his series of paintings of historic moments from the Revolution with this depiction of the moment when Washington returned his commission as commander in chief to the Continental Congress, then sitting at Annapolis, Maryland. (Painting completed between 1815 and 1822 by John Trumbull.)

Washington believed that the blending of persons from every colony into “one patriotic band of Brothers” had been a major accomplishment, and he urged the veterans to continue this devotion in civilian life.67

Washington said farewell to his remaining officers on 4 December at Fraunces’ Tavern in New York City. On 23 December he appeared in Congress, then sitting at Annapolis, and returned his commission as Commander in Chief: “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.”68 Congress ended the War of American Independence on 14 January 1784 by ratifying the definitive peace treaty that had been signed in Paris on 3 September.69

Congress had again rejected Washington’s concept for a peacetime force in October 1783. When moderate delegates then offered an alternative in April 1784 which scaled the projected army down to 900 men in 1 artillery and 3 infantry battalions, Congress rejected it as well, in part because New York feared that men retained from

67. JCC, 25:702-5; Fitzpatrick, Writings, 27:167-69, 197-98, 205-8, 213, 222-30. Washington hoped the veterans would settle around the frontier posts and be a buffer between the Indians and other frontiersmen.
68. Fitzpatrick, Writings, 27:285.
69. Ibid., 27:16-18, 277-80, 284-85; JCC, 25:836-39; 26:23-31.


Massachusetts might take sides in a land dispute between the two states. Another proposal to retain 350 men and raise 700 new recruits also failed. On 2 June Congress ordered the discharge of all remaining men except twenty-five caretakers at Fort Pitt and fifty-five at West Point. The next day it created a peace establishment acceptable to all interests.70

The plan required four states to raise 700 men for one year’s service. Congress instructed the Secretary at War to form the troops into 8 infantry and 2 artillery companies. Pennsylvania, with a quota of 260 men, had the power to nominate a lieutenant colonel, who would be the senior officer. New York and Connecticut each were to raise 165 men and nominate a major; the remaining 110 men came from New Jersey. Economy was the watchword of this proposal, for each major served as a company commander, and line officers performed all staff duties except those of chaplain, surgeon, and surgeon’s mate. Under Josiah Harmer, the First American Regiment slowly organized and achieved permanent status as an infantry regiment of the new Regular Army.71

Led by Continental veterans, this small peacetime Regular Army gradually expanded over the next decade. It had inherited the rules, regulations, and traditions of the Continental Army. Steuben’s Blue Book remained the official manual for the regulars, as well as for the militia of most states, until Winfield Scott in 1835 adapted the 1791 French Army Regulations for American use. At Fallen Timbers in 1794 Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne applied the techniques of wilderness operations perfected by Sullivan’s 1779 expedition against the Iroquois. The integration of ax-Continentals into the militia, coupled with the passage in 1792 of a national militia bill, improved the military responsiveness of that institution until the veterans began to age.72