George Washington's Enforcers
Policing the Continental Army
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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When one reflects on the hardships endured by common soldiers in the armed forces of the American War of Independence, coming to mind are the deprivations of food and clothing, the suffering from harsh winters, lack of pay, and arduous marches without much in the way of shoes. One thinks also of the duress of battle and the long periods of boredom in camp. If one were to ask an infantryman or cavalryman in the Continental army about the most objectionable aspect of service, however, the response...
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I am grateful for suggestions from those who read the manuscript of this book in whole or in part: from academia, Don Higginbotham (University of North Carolina), author on military aspects of the Revolution; David B. Mattern (University of Virginia), senior editor...
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For love of country, George Washington could tell a lie. Reporting to the British commander in chief in North America in January 1757, Washington, a colonel of the Virginia Regiment, mentioned that he and his fellow officers, during the opening round of the French and Indian War, had instilled “notions into the Soldiers (who at that time knew no better) that they were Govern’d by the [British] Articles of War”...
2. The Common Soldier
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Soldiering has always lured the young in search of adventure and glory. The armed forces provided a rite of passage, a sort of way station wherein a recruit earned his manhood, enjoyed camaraderie, became inured of discipline, received pay and sustenance, and had the satisfaction of doing his patriotic duty. At the beginning of the Revolutionary...
3. Military Justice
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The decision of Congress to take charge of the New England forces resisting the British military invasion seemed the logical step for American patriots. Now, resources and personnel from all the colonies could be mobilized and employed under the direction of a single command system. A large-scale federalized military establishment was viewed as a temporary expedient, one that could be reduced or even disassembled during...
4. The Supervisors
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A well-disciplined army required more than punishment of delinquents and slackers. Constant oversight was needed to maintain order and promote combat readiness. Duty officers, known as officers of the day, had as primary responsibilities during their twenty-four-hour tours of duty “handling all internal security problems” and “overseeing the performance of the interior guard.”1 Certain staff officer...
5. Washington’s Life Guard
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...ington. A life guard, doubling as body and honor guard, had been customaryin European practice for the purpose of serving sovereigns and command-ing generals. The French army had the Gardes Françaises; and the British armyhad its Horse Guards and Horse Grenadiers. Household regiments providedsecurity for the British royal family; and in Prussia, Frederick William I (1713–...
6. Generals’ Guards
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Generals of the Continental army could claim the services of a personal guard. The creation of these guards often posed a problem because of the drain of manpower from an already depleted rank and file. Not unlike the commander in chief ’s guard, a general’s guard provided security for his person and for brigade or division headquarters and other services, such as watching over baggage, running errands...
7. Camp and Quarter Guards
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“The camp and quarter guards,” noted Baron von Steuben in his Regulations, “are for the better security of the camp, as well as for preserving good order and discipline.”1 These guards, ordinary and interior, in contrast to those who were extraordinary and exterior, were but a part of the extensive guard system that at any given time involved the service of more than one-fourth of the Continental army...
8. Picket Men and Safeguards
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Vigilance had to be exerted outside an army encampment not only as a protective shield to absorb the first shocks of enemy incursions but also to secure the adjoining countryside: to prevent spying, round up stragglers, thwart desertion, and protect citizens from marauding soldiers. “Guards stationed at isolated areas contiguous to camps were called picket...
9. Temporary Police Patrols
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Patrols in the Continental army often, in their primary or secondary missions, acted as military police. Generally, there were two kinds of patrols: “Information or reconnaissance patrols, whose mission is to gain information of the enemy, terrain, etc.”; and “Security patrols, whose mission is to provide protection in camp, on the march, or line of battle.” Security patrols not only checked the duty alert of guards but also searched...
10. On the March
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“Soldiers, keep by your officers. For God’s sake, keep by your officers!” entreated General Washington as he viewed the march of his army along the bank of the Delaware River just before the battle of Trenton.1 Armies on the move had a degree of vulnerability, and great care was needed to keep the line of march intact and in good order...
11. Officer of Police
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An unwelcome intruder proved a ceaseless annoyance to the enlisted men. The regimental officer of police had the duty of inspecting living quarters of the troops and the grounds of his regiment to make sure that soldiers conformed to regulations regarding cleanliness and sanitation. He and the noncommissioned officers and drummer who accompanied him were known as the camp (or garrison) police, and sometimes...
12. Provost Marshal
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Continental army. Assisted by a provost guard, he primarily had custody of prisoners awaiting trial by general court-martial and, upon conviction, responsibility for executing the sentence; secondarily, he was expected to maintain order and apprehend delinquent soldiers.1 Although borrowing from British and European precedents...
13. The Mar�chauss�e Corps
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A mounted provost corps made sense. It could range in and out of camp, preserving order and taking up troublemakers, suspected persons, marauders, and stragglers. Collectively and individually, members of the corps could act in the capacity of modern military police. Soldiers of a mounted provost corps could be given any number of special assignments, such as serving as escorts, guards, couriers, and camp police. As fully equipped dragoons, the Mar�chauss�e Corps could be employed...
14. Corporal Punishment
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“The worst men are the best soldiers” was an argument successfully used in debate in the British Parliament to prevent the removal of flogging from the army’s code of military justice.1 George Washington probably would not have agreed, but in any event, the Continental army wound up with its fill of the dregs of society. The fear of being subjected to enormous pain inflicted even for the least of infractions constantly hung over the brow of a soldier, although it became quite evident...
15. Drummers and Fifers
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The beginning of the Revolutionary War and its impending end were signaled by the roll of a drum. Early on the morning of April 19, 1775, sixteen-year-old William Diamond beat an “assembly” on his drum calling minutemen to arms on Lexington Green.1
16. The Executioners
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Witnessing executions left common soldiers with feelings of horror and revulsion. As if the mutilating strokes of the lash were not enough, capital punishment was deemed an ultimate necessity in establishing a wellordered and disciplined army. The ritualized carrying out of death sentences embedded in the minds of the soldiery ghastly scenes as the consequence of transgressions against military authority. Capital punishment in the Continental army...
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Harry M. Ward is the William Binford Vest Professor of History emeritus at the University of Richmond. A native of Illinois, he received his graduate degrees from Columbia University. He is the author of numerous works on Colonial and Revolutionary America, several of which have won national awards...
Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 16 b/w halftones
Publication Year: 2009