Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

on such a war as that which they were engaged in, by means of militia and troops enlisted for so short a period as to make them almost as unsusceptible of discipline and as unfit for the execution of extensive plans as the militia itself. Forty-seven thousand Continentals and twenty-seven thousand militia had been in service during the year; and yet on the 2d of January, 1777, when he began his night march upon Princeton, fire thousand men, inore than half of them militia, were all that he could muster. It seems strange to us, as we look back upon these events, that, with such work before it, Congress could have hesitated a moment about the proper way of doing it. The British regulars were now backed by German regulars, men trained in the strictest school of military discipline. It was only by disciplined men that such men could be met upon equal terms; and discipline is the work of time. When the American recruits came in, they had barely time to learn their places in the ranks before they were called upon for active service. And by the time that they had made themselves familiar with the duties of a camp and learnt the first rudiments of military evolutions, their term of enlistment was ended. The militia brought with them not only the ignorance of recruits, but an aversion to every form of restraint. Accustomed at home to come and go as they pleased, they could not see why their freedom of action should be restrained in camp. Accustomed

to use their own powder freely, they made free with the powder of Congress. Inexperienced in the details of camp life, they consumed more food and wasted more supplies than would have supported twice their number of regular troops for twice the time. And when their time was out, they seldom hesitated to sacrifice the most important public interests to their individual rights. Uncertain in battle, fighting at times with the boldness of veterans, running at times before they came within gunshot of the enemy, they were equally unreliable for complicated movements or bold assaults; nor was it the least of their defects that in serving with regulars they communicated to them the contagion of their own irregular and improvident habits. If there is a lesson perpetually inculcated in the letters of Washington and his best officers, it is the folly and extravagance, the waste of property and the waste of life, of carrying on a war by means of temporary levies and raw recruits. :

Congress saw its error, but saw it too late. The favorable moment was past, and past beyond recall. The new committee came prepared to adopt all Washington's plans, — but these plans could no longer be carried out. They resolved to raise an army of 66,000 men; divided not by regiments, but battalions; and shortly afterwards, at Washington's earnest request, sixteen battalions of coot, with three regiments of artillery, three thousand light horse, and a corps of engineers, were

added. It was also resolved that the enlistments should be made for the war, and to hasten them, a bounty of twenty dollars on enlisting, and a grant of a hundred acres of land at the close of the war, were offered to privates, and proportionate grants of land to officers. But it was soon found that men were unwilling to enlist for the war, and accordingly an optional term of three years without the hundred acres of land was agreed upon. But now three years seemed long. The rolls filled up slowly, very slowly, and this grand army was little more than an army upon paper.

It was found necessary to take men upon their own terms. The army still continued to be a body of men brought together for unequal periods, some for nine months, some for three, some for a year, some for three years, and a few for the war; with a discipline so imperfect, that to eyes accustomed to Prussian discipline it seemed anarchy; with such irregularity of administration, that it was impossible to form any idea of its numbers from its muster-rolls or the reports of its officers; so imperfectly clad, that out of 9,000 men there were at one time 3,989 unable to go upon duty for want of clothing; and so imperfectly armed, that “muskets, carbines, fowling-pieces, and rifles were to be seen in the same company,” and these too for the most part “covered with rust, and with many" from which not a single shot could be fired with safety.* A regiment might contain any number of platoons, from three to twenty-one ; sometimes it was stronger than a brigade; and one instance is recorded in which there were but thirty men in a regiment, and one man in a company, and that man a corporal. Manoeuvres were out of the question. The whole drill consisted of the manual exercise, and for this every colonel had a system of his own. The only point upon which they were all agreed was on marching in Indian file.

[graphic]

But if the changes made by Congress failed to reach these evils, they were, with the exception of the deep-rooted evil of short enlistments, and deficient clothing, all reached and all corrected by the knowledge and energy of one man. Of this man, Baron Steuben, I shall have occasion to speak more fully in another lecture. But his name meets us here as the author of that decisive revolution which converted the motley band that had crouched more like beasts than like men in the huts of Valley Forge into the trained soldiers who manoeuvred and fought with the precision and firmness of veterans on the bloody field of Monmouth. The spring of 1778 was the decisive epoch in the history of the American army. All the objections that had been drawn from the nature of our institutions and the habits of our people were fully met. It was seen that they could

* Important details upon this subject may be found in Kapp'ı Life of Steuben.

submit to discipline without sacrificing their independence, and learn to move like machines without impairing their energy of will. “You say to your soldier," wrote Steuben to a Prussian officer, "Do this, and he doeth it. But I am obliged to say to mine, This is the reason why you ought to do that, and then he does it.” Henceforth we begin to find uniformity of discipline, uniformity of drill, uniformity of manoeuvres ; a system of reports which enabled a commander to see at once how many men he could count upon for active service; a system of inspection which saved the country $600,000 in arms and accoutrements alone. The ranks, it is true, still remained thin. The army in the field still fell far short of the army voted by Congress. The men were still badly clothed. Officers might still, perhaps, be seen, as they had been seen at Valley Forge, “ mounting guard in a dressing-gown made of an old woollen blanket or bed-cover!” But officers and men knew their duty and did it. Without ceasing to be citizens, they became soldiers ; proud of their regiment, attached to their profession; accepting without a murmur the “iron despotism” which Washington himself had declared to be the only system by which an army could be governed; and so thoroughly trained, even in complicated manoeuvres, that Steuben, the severest of judges, declared himself willing to put them, in every thing but clothing, side by side with the veterans of France.

« ZurückWeiter »