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Undoubtedly there was the finest material among the men lounging about their quarters at Cambridge in fashion so unmilitary. In physique they were larger than the British soldier, a result due to abundant food and free life in the open air from childhood. Most of the men supplied their own uniform and rifles and much barter went on in the hours after drill. The men made and sold shoes, clothes, and even arms. They were accustomed to farm life and good at digging and throwing up entrenchments. The colonial mode of waging war was, however, not that of Europe. To the regular soldier of the time even earth entrenchments seemed a sign of cowardice. The brave man would come out on the open to face his foe. Earl Percy, who rescued the harassed British on the day of Lexington, had the poorest possible opinion of those on what he called the rebel side. To him they were intriguing rascals, hypocrites, cowards, with sinister designs to ruin the Empire. But he was forced to admit that they fought well and faced death willingly.
In time Washington gathered about him a fine body of officers, brave, steady, and efficient. On the great issue they, like himself, had unchanging conviction, and they and he saved the revolution. But a good many of his difficulties were due to bad officers. He had himself the reverence for gentility, the belief in an ordered grading of society, characteristic of his class in that age. In Virginia the relation of master and servant was well understood and the tone of authority was readily accepted. In New England conceptions of equality were more advanced. The extent to which the people would brook the despotism of military command was uncertain. From the first some of the volunteers had elected their officers. The result was that intriguing demagogues were sometimes chosen. The Massachusetts troops, wrote a Connecticut captain, not free, perhaps, from local jealousy, were "commanded by a most despicable set of officers." At Bunker Hill officers of this type shirked the fight and their men, left without leaders, joined in the panicky retreat of that day. Other officers sent away soldiers to work on their farms while at the same time they drew for them public pay. At a later time Washington wrote to a friend wise counsel about the choice of officers. "Take none but gentlemen; let no local attachment influence you; do not suffer your good nature to say Yes when you ought to say No. Remember that it is a public, not a private cause." What he desired was the gentleman's chivalry of refinement, sense of honor, dignity of character, and freedom from mere self-seeking. The prime qualities of a good officer, as he often said, were authority and decision. It is probably true of democracies that they prefer and will follow the man who will take with them a strong tone. Little men, however, cannot see this and think to gain support by shifty changes of opinion to please the multitude. What authority and decision could be expected from an officer of the peasant type, elected by his own men? How could he dominate men whose short term of service was expiring and who had to be coaxed to renew it? Some elected officers had to promise to pool their pay with that of their men. In one company an officer fulfilled the double position of captain and barber. In time, however, the authority of military rank came to be respected throughout the whole army. An amusing contrast with earlier conditions is found in 1779 when a captain was tried by a brigade court-martial and dismissed from the service for intimate association with the wagon-maker of the brigade.
The first thing to do at Cambridge was to get rid of the inefficient and the corrupt. Washington had never any belief in a militia army. From his earliest days as a soldier he had favored conscription, even in free Virginia. He had then found quite ineffective the "whooping, holloing gentlemen soldiers" of the volunteer force of the colony among whom "every individual has his own crude notion of things and must undertake to direct. If his advice is neglected he thinks himself slighted, abused, and injured and, to redress his wrongs, will depart for his home." Washington found at Cambridge too many officers. Then as later in the American army there were swarms of colonels. The officers from Massachusetts, conscious that they had seen the first fighting in the great cause, expected special consideration from a stranger serving on their own soil. Soon they had a rude awakening. Washington broke a Massachusetts colonel and two captains because they had proved cowards at Bunker Hill, two more captains for fraud in drawing pay and provisions for men who did not exist, and still another for absence from his post when he was needed. He put in jail a colonel, a major, and three or four other officers. "New lords, new laws," wrote in his diary Mr. Emerson, the chaplain: "the Generals Washington and Lee are upon the lines every day... great distinction is made between officers and soldiers."
The term of all the volunteers in Washington's any expired by the end of 1775, so that he had to create a new army during the siege of Boston. He spoke scornfully of an enemy so little enterprising as to remain supine during the process. But probably the British were wise to avoid a venture inland and to remain in touch with their fleet. Washington made them uneasy when he drove away the cattle from the neighborhood. Soon beef was selling in Boston for as much as eighteen pence a pound. Food might reach Boston in ships but supplies even by sea were insecure, for the Americans soon had privateers manned by seamen familiar with New England waters and happy in expected gains from prize money. The British were anxious about the elementary problem of food. They might have made Washington more uncomfortable by forays and alarms. Only reluctantly, however, did Howe, who took over the command on October 10, 1775, admit to himself that this was a real war. He still hoped for settlement without further bloodshed. Washington was glad to learn that the British were laying in supplies of coal for the winter. It meant that they intended to stay in Boston, where, more than in any other place, he could make trouble for them.
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Washington and his Comrades in Arms -by- George WrongBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.