Horton's Historical Articles

by Gerald Horton

Several excerpts about the Revolutionary militia that I found in Papers of George Clinton.

A View of the Militia

Excerpt from Introduction written by Hugh Hastings, New York State Historian, in Public Papers of George Clinton Volume I, pp 101 - 114

How campaigns were conducted and battles won by the Americans during the Revolutionary War must always prove a source of wonder to the trained soldier and of mystery to the historical student. At the critical part of every campaign, when reinforcements were absolutely necessary, the militia habitually evinced a desire to go home; they were dissatisfied with soldiering; they had grievances against their officers or the Government; they were without blankets or ammunition or tents; or shirts or shoes; rain had fallen incessantly or the snow lay deep and the roads were impassable; the troops were always in a state of "beat out." Added to their other tribulations were the crops, which were always either to be laid out or taken in; there were no hands left on the farm; the Continental Currency had lost its value as a purchasing power and the farmer refused to take it for supplies furnished the troops.

The average militiaman of the day was an arrogant and insolent fellow, who knew his rights and asserted them with spirit. He was imbued with the idea that his country had more need of his services than he had of the services of his country. He had but little faith in the officers who commanded him and frankly said so. He had native bravery and spirit enough but was conspicuously lacking in every idea that touched discipline. To him discipline simply meant liberty of action. Obedience to orders was a mere formality, to be interpreted and executed when and as the militiaman saw fit. At times he flatly refused to serve. His farm invariably came before his country for the reason that the farm would compensate him for working on it while he had doubts as to what his country would do for him. Duty carried with it no serious obligation. When the enemy was in sight the demand on the part of officers as well as men for furloughs was strongest; if the night were dark or stormy, the sentry laid aside his gun, sought a protected spot and composedly went to sleep.

Nor were his grievances without justification. Times were hard. Money was difficult to earn and more difficult to collect. The pay of the soldier was small; his ration was meagre in quantity, often indigestible, and generally uncertain of delivery. Much was expected of him. Distances were long and the roads at best were hard and rough. Off the line of the Hudson River the militaman was forced to cover the distance to and from his home to his training station afoot. It must be confessed that his patriotism required stimulation. Women were left to manage the farms. On the frontier this responsibility had added to it terror of a visit from the redskin. The hardy frontiersman who had patriotically joined the Continental forces or the militia lived in constant dread of hearing that his farm had been devastated, his wife murdered, his daughter ravished or his baby carried off in captivity to face a fate infinitely worse than torture at the stake.

Another grievance that appears inexplicable as well for its original existence as for the failure of the authorities to eradicate it without delay, was caused by the disparity in pay and allowances between the Continental and State forces. And yet in spite of this example, in our own time, two instances of a similar nature have been seen, namely the war of the Rebellion and the war with Spain. During the war of the Revolution, however, the pay of United States forces was much more attractive than that allowed State troops, and, in consequence, great difficulty was found in maintaining state quotas, because men preferred to join the National organizations rather than continue their enlistment with the State forces.

By order of Congress, the ration was made to consist of the following kind and quantity of provisions:

"One pound beef or three quarters pound pork or one pound salt fish per day; one pound of bread or flour per day; three pints of pease or beans; one pint milk per man or at the rate of one seventy second of a dollar; one-half pint of rice or one pint of Indian meal per week; one quart of spruce beer or cider per man per day or nine gallons of molasses per company of one hundred men, per week; three pounds of candles to one hundred men per week for guards; twenty-four pounds soft or eight pounds hard soap per one hundred men per week."

Militia Law of 1775.

Excerpt from Introduction written by Hugh Hastings, New York State Historian, in Public Papers of George Clinton Volume I, pp 120 - 121

On July 18, 1775, Congress enacted the first Militia law which "recommended to the inhabitants of all the united English Colonies in North America that all able-bodied, effective men between sixteen and fifty years of age, in each Colony, might form themselves into regular companies of Militia, to consist of one captain, two lieutenants, one ensign, four sergeants, four corporals, one clerk, one drummer, one fifer, and about 68 privates."

Each company was permitted to elect its own officers; the companies were to be formed into regiments or battalions, officered with a Colonel, Lieutenant Colonel, two Majors, an Adjutant or Quartermaster. All officers above the rank of Captain were to be appointed by the respective Provincial Assemblies, or Conventions, or by the Committees of Safety. Each soldier was to be furnished "with a good Musket that will carry an ounce Ball, with a Bayonet, steel Ramrod, Worm, Priming Wire and Brush fitted thereto, a cutting Sword or Tomahawk, a Cartridge Box, that will contain twenty-three rounds of Cartridges, twelve flints and a Knapsack." Each man was to provide himself with one pound of "good Gunpowder and four Pounds of Ball fitted to his Gun."

One-fourth part of the Militia in every county was to consist of minute men, who were ordered "to be ready on the shortest Notice to march to any Place where their Assistance may be required for the Defense of their own or a neighboring Colony." As the minute men were expected to be called into action before the body of the militia were sufficiently trained, it was recommended "that a more particular and diligent attention be paid to their instruction in military discipline."

The Congress absolved from military service all persons who would do violence to their conscience by going to war.

Deserters were punished by a fine of not less than thirty nor more than fifty dollars, and in case of inability to pay the fine, to be punished with whipping not exceeding thirty-nine lashes for each offence. Every person who apprehended a deserter was to receive five dollars.

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