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THE ARMY OF THE REVOLUTION.
M HE army of the Revolution! What remem.
I brances this name awakens! What fireside tales, charms of childhood, stimulants of youth, fanning the flame of young ambition, kindling the glow of early patriotism, come crowding upon our memories as we utter these words. Many of us grew up in the midst of men who could tell us all about that army; who could tell us how the redcoats looked as they marched with measured tread, to the note of bugle and drum, up the grassy slope of Bunker Hill, and what a gleam of exultation flashed along the American line, when, through the veil of smoke, the broken ranks were seen rushing madly towards the shore, to the sharp, quick ring of the American guns; who remembered the sad march through the Jerseys; who had felt the keen December blasts of Trenton, and the keener tooth of hunger on the bleak hillside of Valley Forge ; who had looked upon the face of Washington in gloom, and peril, and triumph. These,
I looked Pleak hind the ke
for many of us, were the old men of our youth, men with a wooden leg, or a single arm, or a single eye; some of them with a deep scar on their faces; all with something about them that gave them a mysterious power over our young imaginations, and bore witness to their tales of hardship and danger. But now that questions crowd upon us there are none left to answer them. Now, when often a single word would solve perplexing doubts and set a whole controversy at rest, the thousand lips that once might have uttered it are sealed forever. Gone, nearly all gone! the few that remain, eight or ten at the utmost, already more than half hidden by the deepening shadows of the grave. Temper the chilling darkness of those shadows while yet you may, those of you, if any there be, who live where kind offices can do it; temper it with soothing words, and gentle acts, and that reverence which is so grateful to age; for generation after generation may pass away before the world shall look upon such men again.
One of the most pernicious errors concerning America into which the English government was led by its ill-informed informers, was, that there was no material there out of which an army could be made. A Colonel Grant, forgetting how the regulars had run at the Monongahela, while a Virginia volunteer was vainly endeavoring to rally them and Virginia militiamen were holding the enemy at bay, kept Parliament on a roar with ludicrous pictures of American cowardice. Voice after voice took up the welcome tale, still believed by British soldiers when they marched to Concord, and not fully disbelieved till they had marched up Bunker Hill. No country, indeed, ever possessed better materials for an army than the thirteen Colonies; hardy yeomen, robust mechanics, bold sailors, accustomed from boyhood to the use of the gun, accustomed through half their lives to long journeys on foot or on horseback, at all seasons and in all weathers. Hundreds of them had fought by the side of English soldiers in the old French war; hundreds more had fought the Indians alone in frontier wars. Tales of hair-breadth escapes, of perilous marches, of patient ambuscades, of all the forms of primitive warfare, were as familiar to their winter-evening firesides as Homer's tale of Troy to a Greek banquet. Washington's name had reached the royal closet. Putnam was already the hero of many stirring legends. Prescott had brought back from the French war a high reputation for gallantry. Gridley had made himself a name at Louisburg as an engineer of rare attainments. Pomroy had taken his place with Ward and Stark; while scattered over the country were hundreds less known than they, but heroes, each of them, of his own village circle. There was not a wellfought field to which some American could not point with pride. There were dishonorable fields on which none but Americans had preserved their honor. It was from materials like these that United America was to form her army. It was with a full knowledge that these materials existed and could be reached, that the leaders of our Revolution began the war.
One grave doubt may have occurred to some of them. Could these men, admirable as they were for frontier soldiers, become regular soldiers ? Did not their habits of social equality unfit them for the nice distinctions and inflexible lines of military subordination ? Would they obey, as a soldier must obey, the man who had worked by their sides in the cornfield or in the workshop, and who owed his epaulets to their votes ?
Here, indeed, was a difficulty inherent in the nature of the people, interwoven with their virtues, deep rooted in their manners and customs, their modes of action and their modes of thought; acting unequally in different parts of the country, it is true; stronger in the Eastern States than in the Middle or Southern States; but strong enough in all to awaken serious anxiety in those who saw from the beginning that the war was to be fought with trained masses, — the victory to be won, if won at all, by that firm, patient, and resolute intrepidity which nothing but discipline can inspire.
But no sooner had it become evident that force would enter into the dispute than the people had begun to prepare themselves for their part by forming independent companies and organizing the militia. Some of these independent companies were drilled by British deserters; and it is not one of the least characteristic traditions of the period that a young Rhode Island Quaker, who had joined one of them, not being able to procure a musket at home, came to Boston under the pretext of collecting an old debt, attended the morning and evening drills and parades of the British troops till his eye had become familiar with their evolutions, and carried back with him an English sergeant as drill-master for his company, and an English musket to drill with. The whole country was astir; everywhere musterings and trainings, everywhere the sound of fife and drum, everywhere the hum of preparation.
Massachusetts organized her militia in October, 1774, and out of her militia came those bands of minute-men who did such good service during these anxious days. A name well known afterwards throughout the length and breadth of the land, the name of Timothy Pickering, meets us for the first time, in connection with a plan for drilling these minute-men in battalions and paying them out of the public treasury. Their drill was a social and religious exercise, followed almost always by a sermon and sometimes by a banquet. It is almost impossible to read how the three were mingled and not think of the solemn banquets of Homer's Greeks auspicated by sacrifice and liba.