J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

“Rejected By the General”?

Last month I quoted a letter that Gen. Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island wrote on 4 July 1775, proudly describing how he had sent greetings the new commander-in-chief, George Washington:

I sent a detachment today of two hundred men, commanded by a colonel, lieutenant-colonel, and major with a letter of address to welcome his Excellency to camp. The detachment met with a very gracious reception, and his Excellency returned me a very polite answer, and invitation to visit him at his headquarters.
But apparently not everyone got the same sunny impression of this event. Ens. (or Cornet) Noah Chapin of Connecticut wrote in his diary for the same day:
this Day near 2000 Troops musterd toward Cambrid to waight on the new Generals But was Rejected By the General Who said they did not want to have time spent in waiting on them.
How to reconcile those two sources? One possibility is that Chapin was passing on secondhand information that exaggerated the number of men involved while Greene described only the most favorable part of Washington’s response for the folks back home.

Another is that news of Washington’s laudatory reception for Greene’s 200 Rhode Island soldiers caused other brigadiers and colonels to start sending delegations until the commander-in-chief told everyone to go back to their posts.

Either way, it seems clear that Washington wanted to see his new troops manning the siege lines, not all assembled in one place for review, as legends of the next century depicted.

TOMORROW: And the day after that.


Chaucerian said...

Or Washington only wanted to engage personally with other generals?

J. L. Bell said...

At this time Washington was actually having some trouble with the generals. Congress had sent some commissions, but the ranks it had conferred on various New England officers did not match up with their self-rankings, and two were threatening to leave. So I suspect his main thought was wondering what he had gotten himself into.