Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Philip Schuyler and the Growth of New York, 1733-1804

Chapter Four, Schuyler's Military Career, 1775-1777

Organizing the Northern Army

Philip Schuyler faced disheartening prospects in 1775 when he began preparations for the invasion of Canada. At Ticonderoga, his headquarters, there was waste, embezzlement, and lack of basic military organization. Ammunition was short and the militia undisciplined; Schuyler observed that they were so careless that he might have done in the sentries with a penknife. Yankee troops feuded among themselves, chafed at discipline, and resisted service under officers not of their choosing. Schuyler immediately set about bringing order out of chaos and organizing his army so it could invade Canada. Knowing the importance of logistics from the previous war, but forced to depend on the Continental Congress, the New York Congress, and fellow commanders and neighboring colonies for men and military supplies, he was slowed in his efforts. Congress adjourned in August, leaving the General to rely on other agencies for the moment. Schuyler's vigorous actions and insistence on strict military discipline began to alienate the sensitive Yankees and hindered his work.

Gradually Schuyler's army grew. One of his reports to Congress in July 1775 recorded a force of about 2,900. Congress ordered other troops to the Northern Department from Connecticut, but although Schuyler wanted an army of nearly 8,000, Congress finally set the figure at 5,000.

Many of the General's problems stemmed directly from Congress's decisions or, rather, lack of decisions. The nature of congressional organization and procedure in directing the war was faulty. Its requisition system was inefficient at best, and the states were not always willing or able to meet Congress's calls for supplies and men. Congress used committees consisting of its own members to run the war, fearing military despotism or domination. It did everything; possible to keep its commanders under civilian control. There was no effective national department of war, and rivalry emerged between military officers commissioned by the states and the Congress. Schuyler got into disputes over appointments, such as that with Elisha Phelps of Connecticut when Phelps refused to relinquish the commissariat to Walter Livingston of New York. The General had to appeal to Congress before Livingston could take charge. Later, Schuyler clashed with Brigadier General David Wooster. When Wooster replaced Richard Montgomery after the latter was killed in Canada, he challenged Schuyler's authority, claiming that he, the ranking officer in Canada, ought to command the army there rather than Schuyler.

Schuyler's difficulties were not unique, for all field commanders from Washington on down struggled with them. For example, Brigadier General Richard Montgomery, the first to serve as Schuyler's top subordinate, reported that his officers questioned orders and grumbled about campaign tactics. His rank and file also resented discipline. Only devotion to duty kept Schuyler from resigning. Yet he was able to do a good job at an impossible task and even critical New Englanders, such as Samuel Adams, admitted as much. Both campaigns against Canada, in 1775-1776, failed because supplies and specie were inadequate. Congress's requisition system never provided all that was needed, but Schuyler energetically obtained what he could, even using his personal credit. In April 1776 he informed Washington that £10,000 would scarcely cover what he was "personally bound for on the public credit."

The First Campaign Against Canada

Schuyler launched the drive against Canada late in August 1775, pushing General Montgomery's advance party along Lakes George and Champlain. Early in September Schuyler, prostrated by fever and gout, was carried back from St. John's to Ticonderoga whence he labored from his sick room to keep the campaign going. Meanwhile, Montgomery inched forward. He captured Montreal in November, and then moved on Quebec. Meantime, Congress responded to Schuyler's urgings and sent a committee to investigate the situation and to assist him. Committeemen Robert Treat Paine of Massachusetts and John Langdon of New Hampshire reached Schuyler late in November with orders to consult with him on ways and means of aiding Benedict Arnold's small army, which was moving through New England to assist Montgomery--or of renewing the attempt on Quebec if the first failed. The two men reported to Congress shortly before Christmas, endorsing Schuyler's call for three more regiments, more equipment, and more supplies. But the campaign practically halted when Montgomery was killed in the assault on Quebec and Arnold was wounded. The American losses were heavy, and winter weather precluded further efforts.

Schuyler's illness hindered preparations for the spring 1776 campaign, yet he persevered. Congress appointed Charles Lee to replace Montgomery and then John Thomas when Lee went to the Southern Department. Congress also met Schuyler's request for another committee to assist military preparations and to woo Canadians to the patriot cause. Early in April, the General received Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, Charles Carroll, and Carroll's brother John, a Roman Catholic priest. These men studied the situation in Canada and seconded Schuyler's appeals to Congress for more men, supplies, and money.

Before Schuyler could reopen the campaign against Canada the British poured reinforcements into Quebec early in May, enabling Sir Guy Carleton to push the Americans back into New York. When Schuylcr's army was forced to retreat, the Congressional Committee made it clear that the reverses were not due to poor leadership, but rather to short enlistments, scarcity of specie, and a smallpox epidemic. Schuyler was so criticized by ill-informed people that he demanded a congressional review of the situation in order to clear himself. Before Congress could act, Schuyler's decision to abandon Crown Point in July 1776 caused renewed complaints that he was too inclined to retreat. (But the darling of Schuyler's New England critics, Horatio Gates, had approved this move.) Still, competent military authority, including General Washington, stated it was advisable to retreat and concentrate at Fort Ticonderoga because British control of Lake Champlain made tenuous the retention of the advance base at Crown Point. The British paused at Lake Champlain, and both armies began to build a fleet; the next encounter would be a naval one. Unaware of the army's retreat from Canada, Congress named Gates to command it, leaving Schuyler as overall department commander. Gates challenged the Yorker for leadership of the retreating forces, and Schuyler suffered anxious moments before Congress supported his claim that there was no army in Canada for Gates to lead.

Although Carleton's fleet destroyed Benedict Arnold's flotilla at Valocour Bay on October 11, 1776, the British did not press southward, but instead cautiously withdrew to Canada for the winter. The enemy victory was a costly one, but the British threat was temporarily ended, leaving Schuyler time to reconstitute his army and prepare for another campaign. Paralleling Schuyler's military endeavors in Northern New York and Canada were his problems with the Indians and Tryon County Tories. As a member of the Board of Commissioners for Indian Affairs he attempted to gain the support of the Iroquois in 1775 and 1776 and won their agreement to remain neutral for a time. In 1777, however, many redmen joined the British, fought at Oriskany with Barry St. Leger, and aided General Burgoyne's march to Saratoga.

The Tory problem was a difficult one, yet Schuyler handled it as well as could be expected. Sir John Johnson, son and heir of Sir William, was capable of raising armed forces from among the tenants and supporters of his family. Guy Johnson had succeeded Sir William as British Superintendent of Indian Affairs. The Johnsons' allies, John Butler and his son Walter, were able leaders and influential with the Indians. And Joseph Brant, close friend of the Johnsons and an important war chief, also was a dangerous threat to the rebel cause. To offset the menace posed by these men in January 1776, Schuyler, acting on Congress's orders, disarmed them, confiscated their military stores, and arrested Sir John. The Tories soon broke their parole and fled to Canada to lead military expeditions against the Americans.

Schuyler's Troubles With Congress

The General's relations with the Continental Congress became so strained that in March 1777 he left the army for several months in order to explain and defend his position before the national legislature. Part of the story of those tensions concerns the two congressional committees which visited Schuyler's department in the spring and autumn of 1776. The spring committee has already been mentioned. Its members reported to Congress in June, and seconded Schuyler's call for support. Their work and the army's retreat were subjected to an investigation which in turn led to another committee to assist the army. Meantime, Schuyler demanded that Congress formally approve his work, and he threatened to resign unless the approval were forthcoming.

Following the dispatch of his resignation (September 14, 1776), Congress sent its committee to Schuyler's army. Richard Stockton of New Jersey and George Clymer of Pennsylvania were authorized to contract for provisions, to encourage reenlistments, and to provide barracks and clothing. Schuyler became incensed because the committee was ordered by Congress to confer with General Gates at Ticonderoga. Schuyler insisted that until Congress accepted his resignation, he should be treated as Gates's superior and that he, not Gates, be consulted by the committee. Schuyler's stand was vital to the maintenance of military order and discipline. Of the three congressional committees sent to Schuyler's army in 1775-1776, only the last significantly helped the army. On its recommendation Congress bestirred itself to call for cannon, substantial amounts of provisions, medical supplies, water-craft to transport troops, and for the hastening of troop quotas from New England. However, the committee's instructions regarding Gates had irritated Schuyler, and he grew increasingly impatient for a congressional inquiry to clear his reputation. Nor was he fully satisfied when in October 1776 Congress refused to accept his resignation and instead commended his work, with a promise of an investigation so as "to put calumny to silence."

Other incidents between the fall of 1776 and February 1777 aroused the General's wrath. Congress had to reassure him that its August 1776 resolution exculpating David Wooster from any blame for the shortage of troops and money in Canada was not a suggestion that Schuyler was at fault. The real tiff began in January when Congress dismissed Dr. Samuel Stringer as Northern Department surgeon without informing Schuyler of the reasons. When the General objected, Congress denounced Schuyler's communication and instructed him to phrase letters in a style "more suitable to the dignity" of Congress.

These epistolary nettles have special significance in the context of persistent New England efforts to place Horatio Gates over Schuyler. When Congress rebuked Schuyler for the "Stringer letter," it also sent Gates to Ticonderoga with orders that apparently made him commander of the department. When that happened, the time had come, Schuyler decided, to settle accounts with Congress, and on March 30 he set out for Philadelphia.

Working from April 7, when he arrived as a New York delegate to Congress, until June 1777, when he returned to command the Northern Department, Schuyler cleared his besmirched reputation, served as a consultant to several committees, worked on a revision of the commissary system, and settled his military accounts. The Treasury Board cleared him of his rumored fiscal malfeasance, and Congress accepted his explanation that the Stringer letter was no challenge to its authority. He still thought of resigning from the army, but he bowed to the demands of duty. On the other hand, Gates was given the choice of remaining as Schuyler's subordinate or transferring to Washington's army. The Gates partisans were aroused at their rebuff but had to bide their time to put their man in Schuyler's place.

Gates left the Northern Army and rushed to Congress to recite his merits and attack those of Schuyler. Having expected Gates simply to provide news from the north, Congress indignantly ordered him out of the chamber and told him in the future to present information in writing. (Persistency was one of Gates's most obvious characteristics and he pursued his aims regardless of national interest and personal honor.)

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