Most Undisciplined Profligate Crew
BY J.K. MARTIN During the past twenty years, historians have learned that there were at least two Continental armies, the first being the army of 1775-1776, which was mostly made of large land owners who were expecting a short conflict, untrained and undisciplined, the second Continental army was built out of the first but had more discipline, a more difficult training regime, and called for longer enlistments. The first Continental army believed the quality of their ideals and their honorable pledge to defend their homes against the British would be enough to defeat the British quickly. The first Continental army lost quickly to the superior numbers and training of the British offensive against New York. Although the army was very zealous, it was not enough to defeat the well-seasoned British army. The first Continental army gave the blue prints for the second Continental army. With these blueprints George Washington called for a “respectable army” in which there was no more short term enlistments, there was arduous training, and a great emphasis on command and control. The second Continental army had many problems, such as starvation, poor clothing and the men weren’t being compensated well for their struggles. These tussles lead to protests, mutinies and desertion. The second Continental army consisted mostly of the poorer class of society, servants of numerous kinds, and the unemployed, and the second Continental army also used land and financial incentives to recruit these lower classes. The second Continental army was much more abrasive with the civilian populace, than the first Continental army, but was also more cohesive and effective once properly trained and disciplined.
The Pennsylvania soldiers’ mutiny demonstrated that the veterans of the Continental army were being maltreated by their leaders who were not able to feed or cloth the soldiers accordingly and were not keeping to the contract stating the soldiers only signed up for three years instead of the duration. A thousand men mutinied on a planned signal and marched toward Philadelphia in order to receive the same benefits that the newer, less experienced soldiers were receiving. An officer was killed and two were wounded when several officers tried to control the mutineers. The majority of the mutineers did not want to leave the army, but instead wanted the correct pay, proper clothing and the liberty to leave or stay. This was evident when the mutineers performed appropriately to the civilians along the route to Philadelphia. Once the mutineers were able to plead their case to Congress, they received all they asked for including: the discharge of any three year enlistee who claimed to have completed his enlistment, back-pay, new clothes, and immunity from mutinying. The mutineers won because George Washington needed the manpower, and many of the men reenlisted right after being discharged. All of these men were veterans of the Revolutionary war and had already put three years into their future home and weren’t about to quit or give up at this point of the war.
The different methods used by the soldiers and officers of the Continental army against the lack of government support were mutiny, looting, plundering, desertion, and protesting, the officers and soldiers were not able to unite because they were not allowed to fraternize, and the one time the officers encouraged a protest they were executed immediately for treason, even though the first volley shot at the prisoners was missed intentionally by the prisoners comrades in the firing squad. The soldiers mutinied largely twice against the state and were mostly victorious twice. The soldiers deserted and went to other recruiters to receive more bounties, and then repeated the process until the “bounty jumper” could not find any more places to receive bounties or until he was caught. The civilian populace quickly grew tired of being forced to “lend” goods to the looting and pillaging soldiers, but the soldiers thought of it as survival and patriotic since they were starving for the honorable and just cause of freedom. The officers protested and threatened to resign unless their wages were paid correctly and accommodatingly. The soldiers and officers did not unite because the officers were gentlemen and thought themselves above the rest of the regular soldiers, fraternization was against military regulations and the one time officers did get involved two men were executed.