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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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

“The Regiments be immediately settled”

Yesterday I examined how the transition from militia to Massachusetts army looked like from a private’s perspective. Here’s a view from the top.

Under New England’s militia system, most men in a community were supposed to turn out in a military emergency. But when the emergency was over? Those men expected to go home.

In late April 1775, with most of the British forces holed up in Boston, and smaller contingents actually withdrawing from Charlestown and Marshfield, there didn’t seem to be an emergency any more. At least, not one that should take every farmer away from his planting.

So some men started to head back home. On 23 April, Gen. Artemas Ward sent a plea to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress:
My situation is such, that if I have not enlisting orders immediately, I shall be left here all alone. It is impossible to keep the men here, excepting something be done. I therefore pray that the plan may be completed and handed to me this morning, that you, gentlemen of the Congress, issue orders for enlisting men.
The “plan” Ward referred to was one he and his colleagues in congress had been working on for weeks: for Massachusetts to enlist thousands of men into an official army, bound to serve until the end of the year.

The next day, the congress started to make that plan concrete:
Ordered, That Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry give the express going to the press, his orders for the enlisting papers.

Ordered, That the enlisting paper going to the press, shall be authenticated by the secretary pro tempore [Ichabod Goodwin].

Resolved, That six hundred of these papers be printed, and that the express wait for two hundred of them. . . .

Resolved, That the [resolves for the] establishment of the army be printed in handbills, and that a copy of them be sent by the express who is going for the enlisting papers, and that three hundred of them be printed immediately.

Moved, That a member from each county be appointed to attend the committee of safety, and let them know the names of the officers in said counties belonging to the minute men, and such as are most suitaable for officers in the army now raising.
In the New England style of raising troops, respected men who wanted to be officers in the army would go around their towns signing up subalterns and soldiers to serve under them.

That process took a while, of course. And there were other details to work out. As I quoted back here, it wasn’t until 5 May that the congress decided on how soldiers who signed up would be sworn into the army.

On 19 May, the process was still dragging on. In fact, the congress was just finishing the oath and commission for Ward himself. He wrote again to Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the congress:

It appears to me absolutely necessary that the Regiments be immediately settled, the Officers commissioned, the Soldiers mustered and paid agreeable to what has been proposed by the Congress—if we would save our Country.

I am Sir
your most Obedient
Huml: Servt:
A. Ward
Even as Ward wrote, the process was getting under way. That day the congress’s committee of safety started to recommended specific colonels for the congress to commission, certifying that their enlisting papers were in order. The committee also sent a letter to other colonels asking them to hurry up and send in their lists of names. Massachusetts had a legal army at last.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling the British would have strongly disagreed with your last sentence. Heh.