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America Goes to War

A Social History of the Continental Army

Charles Neimeyer

Publication Year: 1997

One of the images Americans hold most dear is that of the drum-beating, fire-eating Yankee Doodle Dandy rebel, overpowering his British adversaries through sheer grit and determination. The myth of the classless, independence-minded farmer or hard-working artisan-turned-soldier is deeply ingrained in the national psyche.

Charles Neimeyer here separates fact from fiction, revealing for the first time who really served in the army during the Revolution and why. His conclusions are startling. Because the army relied primarily on those not connected to the new American aristorcracy, the African Americans, Irish, Germans, Native Americans, laborers-for-hire, and "free white men on the move" who served in the army were only rarely alltruistic patriots driven by a vision of liberty and national unity.

Bringing to light the true composition of the enlisted ranks, the relationships of African-Americans and of Native Americans to the army, and numerous acts of mutiny, desertion, and resistance against officers and government, Charles Patrick Neimeyer here provides the first comprehensive and historically accurate portrait of the Continental soldier.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

During the early months of the Revolution, when the issue of manning and maintaining a national army dominated the thoughts of many in and out of Congress, John adams declared flatly that "we must all be soldiers." What he meant was that all true patriots against British repression should demonstrate their loyalty by ...

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pp. 1-7

Two men in blue, members of a German baron's military recruiting party, noticed Candide, a wandering young man down on his luck, sitting in a corner of a tavern. "Now there's a well-made fellow," said one to the other, and they quickly moved in on their prey. striking up a conversation after offering to buy the destitute ...

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1. Few Had the Appearance of Soldiers: The Social Origins of the Continental Line

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pp. 8-26

In 1776, Captain Alexander Graydon was sent into the Pennsylvania hinterlands on a recruiting trip for the Continental army. Finding no one willing to sign the terms of enlistment, he slipped across the Maryland border, hoping, he stated, "that [he] might find some seamen or longshoremen there, out of employ."1 His efforts yielded only one recruit, ...

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2. The Most Audacious Rascals Existing: The Irish in the Continental Army

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pp. 27-43

Probably in no part of Europe was the effect of the American revolt and British policy more deeply debated, written about, or considered than in Ireland. For many Americans, Ireland was a kindred spirit and an entity separate from Great Britain; it was another land held in subjugation and oppression. Stories carried to America by ...

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3. A True Pell-Mell of Human Souls: The Germans in the Continental Army

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pp. 44-64

On a hot July day in 1775, John Adams and several other members of Congress commiserated about the recruitment of men for the Continental army. An idea came to Adams, however, when a German citizen of Pennsylvania walked through the front doors of Independence Hall. Wearing the full uniform of a Prussian "deaths-head" ...

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4. Changing One Master for Another: Black Soldiers in the Continental Army

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pp. 65-88

Cash Africa, a free African American citizen of Litchfield, Connecticut, joined the Continental army along with thousands of other young men in the early months of the war. His decision to become a soldier was not hard to understand. After living nearly hand-to-mouth in a society where racial prejudice, bigotry, and poverty ...

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5. Scalp Bounties and Truck Houses: The Struggle for Indian Allies in the Revolution

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pp. 89-107

Nine days after the Boston Tea Party, a white family that had recently moved into newly acquired territory near the headwaters of the Ogeechee River in the colony of Georgia was massacred by Indians. The following month, the Coweta Creeks attacked a fort west of Wrightsborough and killed twenty more whites. Two weeks ...

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6. To Get as Much for My Skin as I Could: The Soldier as Wage Laborer

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pp. 108-129

Like "circuses come to town," Continental recruiting parties in 1776 fanned out across the thirteen colonies in hopes of enticing men to join the army. Joseph Plumb Martin was one of the many drawn to the commotion caused by the fifes and drums of musicians who entertained the gathering crown with martial tunes. Martin lived with his ...

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7. Running Through the Line Like Wildfire: Resistance, Punishment, Desertion, and Mutiny in the Continental Army

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pp. 130-158

Cannons boomed out a warning and signal rockets lit up the New Jersey sky. Suddenly, cheering soldiers poured forth from their huts with their muskets. The men of the Pennsylvania line had mutinied. with pent-up fury and indignation, the soldiers seized several artillery pieces, loaded them with grapeshot, and rushed toward the ...

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pp. 159-166

Toward the end of the Revolution, Joseph Plumb Martin chanced upon the army as it passed a crossroads. He stated that he had never before had such an opportunity to see the entire army as it marched. What he saw was "truly amazing." "There was Tag, Rag, and Bobtail; some in rags and some in jags, but none in velvet gowns." The ...


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pp. 167-220

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 221-238


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pp. 239-244

Image Plates

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814759264
E-ISBN-10: 0814759262
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814757826
Print-ISBN-10: 0814757820

Page Count: 260
Publication Year: 1997