Joseph Plumb Martin served as a private soldier in the Continental Army for eight years. Born in 1760 he was raised by his grandparents on their Connecticut farm from age six. He was fourteen at the time of Lexington and Concord. Inspired by the rage militaire directly following the first successful clash of arms with the British invader Martin decided to join the militia. However he could not get his grandfather's permission until July 17hi76, when he enrolled as a six-month volunteer in a Connecticut regiment of the Continental Army. He mustered out of the service in December and returned home.
Why we were made to suffer so much in so good and just a cause; and a note of admiration to all the world, that an army voluntarily engaged to serve their country, when starved, and naked, and suffering everything short of death (and thousands even that), should be able to persevere through an eight years war, and come off the conquerors at last (2)!
The book's final chapter offers an extended argument for which the main narrative serves as the evidence. He forcefully maintains that the Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1818 was a long overdue payment to the veterans for services rendered. He observes that the Continental Army regulars never received adequate food, clothes, or shelter, much less their monthly pay. While Martin acknowledges the difficulty of moving supplies over winter roads, he blames the army's "starving in detail" on "an ungrateful people who did not care what became of us, so they could enjoy themselves while we were keeping a cruel enemy from them" (125).
Martin's belief that the Continentals' contributions to final victory were underappreciated (both during the war and after) ties into the second part of his concluding argument: the role of the militia, which performed important service during the war: "I well know, for I have fought by their side" (183). Nevertheless, he contends that the Continental Army was the backbone of the Revolution. Ironically, the scholarly consensus has caught up with the old veteran in its view of the militia as a necessary but insufficient agent for Independence.
In his battle narratives, Martin documents how Continental discipline was vital for ultimate victory. Immediately following his first enlistment, Martin's regiment--5th Connecticut--was ordered to the defense of New York City in the summer of 1776. This regiment was a short-term unit enrolled for six months. Its officers were without experience, their troops green as grass. Prior to the British invasion of New York, the men received little drilling or training. After the American defeat on Long Island, these raw soldiers were tasked with defending the likely landing site on Manhattan at Kip's Bay. Martin describes the position as "nothing more than a ditch dug along on the bank of the [East] river, with the dirt thrown out toward the water" (23). On the morning of 15 September, British warships began bombarding the American position, as 4,000 Hessian troops approached in rowboats toward Martin and his 500 comrades. Expecting raw militia (as the short-term troops were considered) to withstand the fierce cannonade was too much; their officers ordered a retreat. The result was complete disorder and a rout. Martin blames the lack of leadership for this humiliation: "the men were confused, being without officers to command them. I do not recollect of seeing a commissioned officer from the time I left the lines … until … in the evening" (29). His regiment did, however, fight with credit at Harlem Heights and White Plains later in the campaign.
Martin mustered out of the 5th Connecticut in late December 1776. The following April, he signed up for the duration with the 8th Connecticut. The recruitment of long service regiments was the result of the manifest failures of the short-term units. Another problem with these semi-militia regiments was that they obliged Washington continually to rebuild the Continental...
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