Sunday, April 5, 2020

Episode 143 Burgoyne’s Northern Army

Back in Episode 132, General Johnny Burgoyne got London’s approval to lead an Army south from Quebec to capture the Hudson Valley, Albany, and link up with the larger army in New York City. General Burgoyne arrived in Quebec May 6, 1777.  From there, he traveled upriver to Montreal where he met with the Commanding General in Canada, Sir Guy Carleton.

Burgoyne had quite a few general officers serving under him for this mission.  Today I want to introduce a few of those who became key members of what would become known as the Saratoga Campaign.

Simon Fraser

The first is Simon Fraser.  General Fraser came from a Scottish clan with a long military history.  Most of the clan was either executed or had its land seized for participation in the Jacobite Uprising and fighting the English at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.  It is not clear if Fraser fought at Culloden.  If he did, it is not something he would want people to know about.

Simon Fraser
(from Outlander Fandom)
He obtained a commission in the Dutch Army a short time later as part of the Scots Brigade.  This is just my speculation, but he may have been able to escape the battle and, along with many of his fellow Scots, and joined a foreign army as a means of starting a new life. That same year, he was wounded in battle at Bergen-op-Zoom against the French during the War of Austrian Succession.

Like many other Scots on the losing side of the Jacobite Uprising, Fraser returned to Britain after some time abroad and joined the British Army, probably in part to help rebuild the Fraser name.  He received a lieutenant’s commission in 1755 and soon left from America.  There, he served under his uncle Colonel Simon Fraser.  He distinguished himself at the Siege of Louisbourg in 1757 and was promoted to captain.  He fought with General Wolfe at the Siege of Quebec (see Episode 13).

After the British secured Canada, Fraser continued his service in the Seven Years War by serving under Ferdinand of Brunswick, in what is today Germany.  His service allowed him to advance to major and then lieutenant colonel by the end of the war.  After that, he served at Gibraltar for a time, then moved to Ireland.  In 1770 he served as Quartermaster General of Ireland, and there developed a friendship with General Johnny Burgoyne.

When Burgoyne prepared his 1776 invasion of New York, he requested that Irish regiments under Colonel Fraser be a part of his army.  As you may recall from back in Episode 95, Fraser played an active role in expelling the Continentals from Canada at the Battle of Three Rivers.  Carleton granted Fraser a field promotion to brigadier general so that he could command the multiple regiments involved in the fighting.  Following Three Rivers, Fraser continued his service as a brigadier general in America.

Fraser also led his forces down Lake Champlain later that year.  Following the battle of Valcour Island, his army moved within sight of Fort Ticonderoga, only for General Carleton to declare it was too late in the season and that the army would pull back to Canada. Fraser shared the frustration of many officers that they did not take Ticonderoga then.

As the 1777 campaign began, Burgoyne returned from London to Canada with clear authority to assume command of the New York invasion and to leave Carleton in Canada.  Burgoyne tapped Fraser to be one of his top field commanders.

Baron von Riedesel

Burgoyne’s other key general was Friedrich Adolf von Riedesel.  He commanded the regiments of Brunswickers who the British had hired to supplement the regulars in Canada.  Again, although they are from Brunswick, I’m going to refer to them as use the generic term German for the sake of simplicity.  I may also slip up and occasionally call them Hessians.  But most of the German-speaking soldiers in the northern army were from Brunswick.

Riedesel was the second son of a Baron.  In the German tradition, he would use the title of Baron like his father, but would not inherit any estates.  His father wanted him to study law.  He began legal studies, but grew bored and instead took a commission in the army at age 17.  His father was outraged at this decision and cut him off from all financial assistance.  Over time though, father and son would reconcile.  Riedesel soon began to receive his allowance again, which allowed him to live in proper the proper style of a gentleman.

Friedrich Riedesel (1796)
(from Wikimedia)
Ensign Riedesel’s first appointment in 1755 was to London, where he began to learn English and French . The following year though, the Seven Years War required his return to the continent.  Riedesel served as an aide to Ferdinand of Brunswick.  For his conspicuous service at the Battle of Minden, Riedesel received a promotion to captain of cavalry.  Riedesel continued to serve under Ferdinand of Brunswick when Simon Fraser joined the staff in 1760 or 61.  The two young men were certainly aware of each other, although it is not clear if they got to know each other very well at that time.

In 1762, Riedesel suffered a battle injury which required temporary leave so that he could recover.  While he was not well enough to fight, he was well enough to woo and marry Frederica Von Massow, the daughter of the Brunswick Commissary General.  Riedesel returned to duty.  But by the time he did, the war had ended.

In 1767, his regiment disbanded.  Riedesel became Adjutant General of the Brunswick Army.  In 1772, he was promoted to colonel.  When Britain came looking to rent an army in 1776, the Duke of Brunswick made a deal to send about 4300 men to America.  He promoted Riedesel to major general and gave him command of the army.

Riedesel’s  Brunswickers arrived in Quebec in June 1776, only a few days before the Battle at Three Rivers.  The arrival of these German reinforcements is what convinced the Continentals to abandon Sorel and retreat back into New York.  Riedesel’s men later worked with the British in the advance that resulted in the Battle of Valcour Island.

As General Burgoyne prepared his New York campaign, he would rely on General Riedesel to command the Germans that made up nearly half of Burgoyne’s army.

William Phillips

Major General William Phillips had a rather unusual background for a general.  He was not of noble birth.  In fact, we don’t even know the month or day he was born.  Records just show that he was born probably in 1731.  His grandfather, Thomas Phillips was an army captain.  His father, known only at T.C. Phillips was thought to be an officer as well, but we really don’t know.  His mother, Catherine Brudenell was the daughter and sister of two British generals both named Thomas Brudenell.  It is likely from them that young William got his start in life.  As a commoner with no real money behind him, his chances of going far as an army officer were slim.

Instead, at around age 15, he enrolled in the new Woolwich Military Academy, which had only been in existence for a few years.  The Board of Ordnance had created it in 1741 to help train artillery officers.  Training in artillery and engineering were probably the best bet for an aspiring officer who did not have money or family name behind him.

William Phillips
(from Wikimedia)
During the Seven Years War, Phillips served with distinction, noted for his ingenuity and bravery at several battles, including Minden and Warburg.  He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of Artillery.  After the war, he became Inspector General of the Artillery, then as Commander of Artillery at the artillery school at Woolwich.  In 1772, received promotion to Colonel and became Lieutenant Governor of Windsor Castle.

In 1774, he was elected as a Member of Parliament.  Phillips had made some important friends via the army, including General Henry Clinton, who helped Phillips to win a seat in the House of Commons. In the spring of 1776, Colonel Phillips sailed with General Burgoyne for America.  These were the first British reinforcements that pushed the Americans out of Canada.

During this time period, and until 1855, artillery was not actually run by the British War Office.  Artillery officers did not buy their ranks like those in the infantry and cavalry.  They received promotion, ostensibly on merit and seniority, but connections didn’t hurt.  The Board of Ordnance ran the artillery and was responsible for promotions.  So, artillery officers almost never had any noble pedigree and were looked down upon by the infantry and cavalry as essentially support staff.

The Board of Ordnance worked closely with the army, being responsible for things like the production of arms and powder and the maintenance of forts and military barracks.  But as I said, the Board and the War Department were separate political entities within the British government. So, here is where I start to get confused.  Several sources I’ve read that artillery officers had no authority to give commands to infantry or cavalry officers in the field, or at least that they were not to be given general commands over armies in the field.

General Guy Carleton, with the agreement of General Burgoyne, issued several commands to various officers in preparations for the New York campaign.  The term we usually find is “general in America.”  These were temporary ranks to make a colonel a temporary general for purposes of commanding several regiments, or for other junior officers to step up in rank temporarily for some limited period to meet the needs of the army.

General Carleton named Phillips to be a “major general in America” second in command of the expedition, below only General Burgoyne in rank.  Apparently this commission caused great concern back in London.  Lord Germain wrote to Carleton in late 1776 that the use of an artillery officer was not customary and that, although he was willing to let Phillips continue in this role for the time, that it should not be considered precedential.

I guess it says something about the respect that top generals had for Phillips that they were willing to break with custom and precedent to give him a top command in the expedition.  Burgoyne, however, had to make clear in his standing orders that infantry and cavalry officers were to obey the orders of General Phillips as a superior officer, something that was apparently at least in question without such orders.

Barry St. Leger

Barry St. Leger
(from Wikimedia)
Another commander that was a part of this campaign was Barrimore Matthew St. Leger, known as Barry at lieutenant colonel who received a temporary bump to “brigadier general in America” for the campaign.  St. Leger was born in Ireland to a noble Protestant family.  As a younger son, he would not inherit land or title and took up a career in the army.  He attended Eton and Cambridge, before joining the army as an ensign at the beginning of the Seven Years War.

St. Leger served well during the war, participating in most of the important battles in Canada, the Siege of Louisburg, the Capture of Quebec, and the campaign to capture Montreal.  He rose to the rank of major by the end of the war.  His experience fighting in the area and his expertise in fighting what the British called “Indian style” warfare made him an ideal candidate for a command position.  St. Leger had become a lieutenant colonel by the beginning of the Revolution and Carleton granted him a temporary command of brigadier general in America.

On top of that, Burgoyne granted St. Leger and independent command as part of the campaign.  While Burgoyne would lead the main army straight down Lake Champlain headed directly south toward Albany, St. Leger would take another force of about 2000 men up the St. Lawrence river to Lake Ontario.  He would then proceed east following the Mohawk River toward Albany.  This would force the American defenders to divide their forces and defend against two armies coming at them from different directions.

Burgoyne’s Army

British regulars and the Hessians made up the bulk of Burgoyne’s invasion force.  Burgoyne also had two regiments of British militia, the King’s Royal Regiment and the Queen’s Rangers.  These were primarily English speaking Canadians or Loyalists from New York.  Although London expected Burgoyne to supplement his army with local loyalists, it appears only about 250 joined his expedition.

In addition, about 400 native american warriors joined Burgoyne's expedition.  The local Iroquois tribes had determined that they would remain neutral in this conflict.  The British recruited tribes that lived further north and west in Canada. British records do not make clear exactly which tribes participated.  British Indian agents spread the word that the army was looking for support, and that warriors from various tribes turned out to fight.  Supporting the British army meant a chance for plunder.  It also meant improved relations with the king, which could lead to better protection of their lands or more gifts from the government in the future.  Among the warriors were some Iroquois who ignored the confederation’s official neutrality.  The majority came from the Algonquin, Abanaki, and Ottawa tribes.  Some warriors had come from hundreds of miles away to join the expedition.

The native auxiliaries were considered an important part of the mission, despite relatively small numbers. They served as scouts and typically controlled the woods around the main column.  This prevented spies or skirmishers from the enemy getting too close to the main column of soldiers.  Native warriors with a reputation for savagery often struck fear into the enemy.

Burgoyne felt it necessary to hold a meeting with the warriors to make clear that they would have to follow rules about not scalping living prisoners or wounded enemy on the field, and not looting the homes of loyalists in the region.  His speech later became the butt of jokes in London as a member of Parliament suggested that maybe they should release lions from the London zoo and ask them not to attack any people while they roamed the streets.

In total, Burgoyne’s command was a substantial one.  I’ve seen contradictory evidence of the exact size, but it appears to have included over 4000 regulars, over 3000 German mercenaries, about 250 local loyalist militia, 400-500 Indians, a few hundred French speaking draftees who primarily assisted with moving equipment and other basic labor functions.  There were also nearly 1000 camp followers, that is women and children related to the officers and men.  Typically these women performed nursing and laundress duties for the army.  Burgoyne also took a pretty substantial artillery complement of at least 32 cannon, morters, and howitzers.  Two of them were 24 pounders, which are much larger than guns that are usually taken into the field.

In addition to the force led by Burgoyne, St. Leger’s independent command consisted of about 2000 men.  About half of these were Indians, who it was thought would be more effective in the lengthy wilderness march.  There were only about 200 regulars and another 100 Hessian jaegers.  The remaining six or seven hundred were local Tories and Canadian militia.  St. Leger also took about forty artilleryman with four small field cannon and a couple of mortars.

The Mission

General Burgoyne moved his force to St. Jean, also called St. John’s, at the northern tip of Lake Champlain, where General Carleton had launched his fleet the year before.  The force would move down Lake Champlain to Fort Crown and Fort Ticonderoga where they would defeat the American defenders.  Unlike the previous year, there would be no American fleet on Lake Champlain to slow up the advance. From there, the army would move down the Hudson River toward Albany.

Planned invations routes (From Revolutionary War)
There, the main army would link up with General St. Leger’s secondary force which would have taken Fort Stanwix and then traveled across the Mohawk Valley to reach Albany from the west.  At the same time, these two armies would meet up with General Howe’s Army which would move from New York City, up the Hudson Valley to Albany from the south.  Once that was complete, Burgoyne would come under the command of General Howe and would take orders from him.

Years later, a famous Prussian Field Marshal would note that no battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy.  And as we will see in coming episodes, that is certainly true with these plans.  However, as I mentioned a few weeks ago when the British were coordinating plans for the 1777 campaign, it did not appear that all the military leaders even agreed on plans ahead of time.

General Carleton had been ticked off to learn that he would not be permitted to command the campaign himself.  He seems, though, to have done everything in his power to provide Burgoyne with everything he needed for the offensive.

General Howe in New York had absolutely zero interest in marching up the Hudson Valley to meet Burgoyne’s army in Albany.  Instead, he planned to leave New York City and head south to capture Philadelphia.

General Henry Clinton, who was left to babysit New York City with a few Hessians and local Tories was upset that he was not given the command that Burgoyne held, even though he was more senior.  He showed no interest in moving up the Hudson River either.  He was complaining that he barely had enough men to defend New York City if attacked.

The man who should have been coordinating all of this was Secretary of State Lord George Germain.  Historians criticize Germain for leaving his orders vague and for failing to order General Howe to support Burgoyne’s offensive from the south.  Germain signed off on Howe’s plans to attack Philadelphia, but simply noted that Howe should be sure to have that done early in the fighting season so that he could support Burgoyne near Albany later in the year.

Germain seemed to have no appreciation of the difficulties of marching armies through the wilderness of upstate New York, and the fact that these armies would not have large numbers of farms or towns to provide food and other necessities.  An army pushed hard in good weather might be able to march fifty miles on an open road in one day.  Marching through a forest, an army might be lucky if it could march five miles, and that was without even encountering the enemy.

Instead, Germain seemed inclined to believe the complaints of lower officers like Burgoyne that the lack of success up until this point had simply been the incompetence or caution of more senior officers like Carleton, Howe, and Clinton, and that more daring leadership would succeed where others had failed.  Of course Burgoyne put it in terms that were a little more respectful to his superiors, but that was the general impression that he gave Germain and others in London.  It was a common ploy for more junior officers who wanted to be given command opportunities over more senior ones.

Burgoyne started his campaign with fewer men than he had planned.  He also had fewer supplies and great difficulties trying to maintain supply lines between Canada and his army as it advanced south into New York.  This required large baggage trains for which the army had inadequate horses, wagons, and drivers to carry them.  It did not help that Burgoyne was bringing a large artillery train that included two twelve pounders and two twenty-four pounders.  These large guns were far heavier than most field guns which rarely rated higher than six pounders.

If Burgoyne had concerns about these limitations, he did not let it show to others.  He had a can do attitude and was going forward aggressively as he had promised officials in London.  By June 20, 1777 his army was ready to begin its move from St. Jean toward their first target: Fort Ticonderoga.

Next Week, the Americans at Fort Ticonderoga prepare to defend against the British offensive.

- - -

Next Episode 144 Defending Fort Ticonderoga (available April 12, 2020)

Previous Episode 142 Disease in the Revolution

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Further Reading


John Burgoyne:

John Burgoyne Campaign to Saratoga:

Hargreaves, Reginald “Burgoyne and America's Destiny” American Heritage Magazine, June 1956 Volume 7 Issue 4:

“Baroness On The Battlefield” American Heritage Magazine, Dec. 1964 Vol. 16 Issue 1:

Schenawolf, Harry “General Simon Fraser: England Lost an Army & Their Best Wilderness Warrior at Saratoga” Revolutionary War Journal, Oct 5, 2018:

General Friedrich Adolph Riedesel:

William Phillips:

Barry St. Leger

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Anbury, Thomas Travel through Various Parts of North America, Vol. 1, William Lane, 1789.

Bird, Harrison March To Saratoga General Burgoyne And The American Campaign 1777,
Oxford Univ. Press, 1963

Brandow, John H. The story of old Saratoga; the Burgoyne campaign, to which is added New York's share in the revolution, Brandow Printing, 1919.

Burgoyne, John Orderly book of Lieut. Gen. John Burgoyne : from his entry into the state of New York until his surrender at Saratoga, 16th Oct., 1777: from the original manuscript deposited at Washington's headquarters, Newburgh, N.Y., J. Munsell, 1860.

Burgoyne, John A Brief examination of the plan and conduct of the northern expedition in America, in 1777, T. Hookham, 1779.

Clay, Steven E. Staff Ride Handbook for the Saratoga Campaign, 13 June to 8 November 1777, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2018 (US Army Website):.

Digby, William The British Invasion from the North: The Campaigns of Generals Carleton and Burgoyne from Canada, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1887.

Duncan, Francis History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, Vol 1, J. Murray 1879.

Eelking, Max von, (translated by Stone, William L.) Memoirs of Major General Riedesel, Vol. 1, J. Munsell, 1868.

Hadden, James Hadden's Journal and Orderly Books, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1884.

Hudleston, Francis J. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne : misadventures of an English general in the Revolution, Bobbs-Merrill Co. 1927.

Luzader, John Decision on the Hudson, National Park Service, 1975.

Riedesel, Friederike Charlotte Luise, Freifrau von Letters and journals relating to the war of the American Revolution, and the capture of the German troops at Saratoga, Joel Munsell, 1867.

Walworth, Ellen H. Battles of Saratoga, 1777, Joel Munsell’s Sons, 1891.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Davis, Robert P. Where a Man Can Go: Major General William Phillips, British Royal Artillery, 1731-1781, Greenwood Press, 1999.

Furneaux, Rupert The Battle of Saratoga, Stein and Day 1971.

Ketchum, Richard M. Saratoga, Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Henry Holt & Co, 1997.

Logusz, Michael O. With Musket and Tomahawk, The Saratoga Campaign and the Wilderness War of 1777, Casemate Publishing, 2010

Luzader, John F. Saratoga: A Military History of the Decisive Campaign of the American Revolution, Casemate Publishers, 2008

Mintz, Max M. The Generals of Saratoga: John Burgoyne and Horatio Gates, Yale Univ. Press, 1990.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Episode 142 Disease in the Revolution

I said last week I would be covering Burgoyne’s Northern Army as it prepared to attack Fort Ticonderoga.  However, I changed my mind.  I’m going to do something a little different this week.  Normally, I cover a specific event in time during the American Revolution.  But as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads across the world, I thought it would be interesting to take a broader look at disease in the American Revolution.

Mortality Rates

In the eighteenth century, disease was a part of life, and a common cause of death.  For twenty-first century listeners who take antibiotics and advanced medical care as a given, it may be hard to appreciate how far we’ve come from a time when amputations with dirty saws and unwashed hands were the norm, and a simple cold could kill you.

The eighteenth century was a time that, if you lived to adulthood, you had beaten the odds.  Infant mortality rates from that era, which are sketchy and can vary greatly depending on your source, seem to show that your odds of making it to ten years old were about 40%.  Less than a third made it to age twenty.

George Washington visits sick at Valley Forge (from ArtNet)
Europeans had brought many diseases to North America, which famously wiped out more than 90% of the native population.  The reason the Pilgrims were able to settle in Plymouth, Massachusetts and found good farming land ready for planting, was that explorers had traveled through that same area while infected with smallpox a few years earlier and wiped out every member of the tribe that had lived there.

Disease in the colonial era was always a problem. Wars only made a bad situation worse.  Crowding people together in large groups, providing inadequate food, poor access to fresh foods, and exposure led to high death rates among the military without a shot being fired.  The British army calculated that it lost 11% of its soldiers just transporting them across the Atlantic Ocean.  It was an expectation that an army would lose a fair portion of its soldiers to disease in any given year.

On the American side, less than seven thousand soldiers were killed in action.  Conservative estimates say at least 17,000 died from disease, and that is probably an underestimate. A great many sick soldiers went home or left for civilian care and died from their disease without being counted.   Some estimates put the number at over 60,000, or about nine times the number of battle deaths.

That’s also just counting soldiers.  The movement of troops spread disease all over the continent.  Civilians and soldiers alike contracted disease and died.  In only one year, 1777, and from only one of many diseases, smallpox, estimates are that over 100,000 soldiers and civilians died.

Smallpox was one of the most virulent killers of the era.  If you caught smallpox and survived, you had immunity.  George Washington had traveled to Barbados as a teenager and contracted the disease there.  This probably saved his life during the war as smallpox ravaged his army.  However, he had pock marks on his face for his entire adult life as a result of contracting the disease.  Some have speculated that smallpox may have rendered Washington unable to have children.  Infertility is sometimes the result of a smallpox infection.

By the way, Washington was not traveling to Barbados for spring break.  He went with his older brother Lawrence, who had contracted tuberculosis.  It was thought that the climate there would help Lawrence to recover.  It did not.  As I said, Washington contracted smallpox. The two brothers spent a few miserable months on the island before returning home.  Lawrence died from tuberculosis the following year at age 33.  Upon his death, George inherited the home that his brother named after the man he had served under while a marine with the British Navy, Admiral Edward Vernon.


Smallpox was the most deadly disease of the era.  Typically, among Europeans, the death rate was around 30%.  Without any real prevention or cure, it would spread through regions until enough people had died off and the rest had socially distanced themselves that it went away.  It would usually come back again in a few years when people had gone back to normal living and another infected person introduced it into the community.

Smallpox Patient
(from Wikimedia)
A smallpox infection initially presented itself by causing headache, chills, backache, high fever, vomiting, and anxiety. These occurred about twelve days after exposure, giving the infected person time to spread it to others before falling ill.  About four days after feeling symptoms, the victim would suffer a rash on the face, chest, arms, back, and legs.  The rash would turn into sores around the mouth, throat, and nasal passages. After that, pustules or “pox” would pop up all over the skin of the person.  The density of the pox usually an indicated the chance of death.  If the patient survived, the pox would turn into scabs and eventually fall off, leaving a scar on the skin.  If the patient survived this for about a month, he or she would likely recover.  The patient would no longer be infectious only once all the scabs had fallen off.

A smallpox epidemic broke out in Boston during the siege in 1775.  The British Commander, General Thomas Gage had to quarantine infected patients to limit its spread among the British regulars as well as the civilian population.  In November, he forced several hundred sick civilians to leave the city, where they passed through the American lines.  This, of course, spread the disease to the Continental Army as well.

There, General Washington had to order quarantines, or what they called "isolation" to help prevent its spread.  It was one of his first orders of business.  The day before he formally took command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775, the army received orders that called for the appointment of a "suitable person" to make daily inspections of the men of each company for illness, and any soldier showing symptoms of smallpox to be isolated immediately. Two days later, Washington issued orders cautioning against soldiers traveling to infected areas "as there may be danger of introducing smallpox into the army."

A few weeks later, Washington wrote to Congress, saying that  he had "been particularly attentive to the least Symptoms of the Small Pox, hitherto we have been so fortunate, as to have every Person removed so soon, as not only to prevent any Communication, but any Apprehension or Alarm it might give in the camp. We shall continue the utmost Vigilance against this most dangerous Enemy."

Although smallpox is very deadly, it is not as contagious as some diseases. You have to have direct contact with someone who is sick in order to catch it. Therefore, quarantines could be relatively effective if strictly enforced.  Even so, hundreds of soldiers died of the disease at the siege of Boston.

When General Gage expelled the sick from Boston, Washington had to issue orders to "prevent any of your officers from any intercourse with the people who ... came out of Boston." As Washington explained "there is great reason to suspect that the smallpox is amongst them, which every precaution must be used to prevent its spreading." In January 1776, the Continentals established a hospital at Dorchester, Massachusetts, to isolate American officers and soldiers who contracted the disease.

General John Thomas,
Smallpox victim
(from Mass. Hist. Soc.)
Smallpox proved to be an even worse scourge for the northern army that invaded Quebec.  Almost as soon as Benedict Arnold’s forces arrived in December 1775, word of smallpox outbreaks began to circulate.  One reason General Richard Montgomery opted to attack Quebec on December 31 was that he was concerned that the disease would only continue to ravage his army (see Episode 79).  Those who were not sick wanted to leave before they caught it.  Few recruits wanted to join the army that appeared to be a breeding ground for smallpox.

During the siege of Quebec, Continentals reported at times more than three-fourths of their soldiers unfit for duty.  The inability to implement strict quarantines as had happened in Boston meant that the disease ran rampant.  When Major General John Thomas was sent to command the army in Canada, he fell ill with smallpox within days of his arrival and quickly died.

Smallpox continued to plague the army over the course of the entire war.  It was almost certainly the single largest killer of soldiers.


One reason smallpox became less of a problem in the later part of the war was inoculations.  There had been an inoculation for smallpox available for decades.  In fact, there is evidence that the Chinese understood how to perform inoculations for centuries.  Inoculation seems to have reached the western world in the late seventeenth century.  It was used in Boston as early as the 1720’s.

Cotton Mather (from Art)
There were, however, some problems with inoculation.  Many ministers opposed inoculation as “playing God”.  Many believed that disease was a curse from God and that trying to prevent it through actions other than prayer and obedience to God’s law was wrong.  That said, one of the earliest proponents of inoculation was a minister, Cotton Mather, who greatly encouraged its use in Boston in the early 18th century. Inoculations also first became common as ways of protecting Native Americans and negro slaves.  For many colonists the practice took on a “heathen” connotation, or something that was necessary only for the lower classes.

Religious and racist concerns aside, there were also some good arguments in the age of reason for not inoculating.  One of the big ones was that inoculation gave you a mild version of smallpox.   Some small percentage of those inoculated, in some cases as many as 2%, died from the inoculation.  Another famous New England minister, Jonathan Edwards received the inoculation and died as a result.

Some argued that dangerous inoculations violated the hippocratic oath of doctors to “do no harm.” Inoculation also made you a carrier, even if you did not get as sick as others.  For a period of time, an inoculated person could pass the disease to others, who would in turn get the full deadly version of the disease.  Thus, inoculation made you a danger to others.

Many colonies had laws against inoculation as a result.  People did not routinely get inoculated and instead simply hoped they would not get sick.

Jonathan Edwards
(from Wikimedia)
The British Army did, as a matter of routine, inoculate its soldiers.  Unlike civilians, soldiers were likely to come into contact with many different people in their travels, and had a much higher likelihood of catching the disease at some point.  Inoculations also meant that they could get sick at a convenient time when they could get proper treatment and be contained, as opposed to getting sick in the field where they could spread the disease and at a time when they might be needed for battle.  However, even though soldiers did often receive inoculation, many did not.  This is why it was still a problem for General Gage during the Siege of Boston.

The Americans had no inoculation plan.  As I said, inoculations were illegal in many parts of America.  Beyond that, commanders could not afford to have their entire army sick for several weeks while they were in the field and in the face of the enemy.  Therefore, they largely relied on isolation measures to keep it under control.  As I said, in many places this was not strict enough to be effective and had devastating results.

In some cases, soldiers inoculated themselves against orders and were court martialed.  Now you may think, how can you punish a soldier for protecting himself?  Consider that making yourself sick made you unavailable for duty at a possibly critical time.  Also, by infecting yourself, you put all of your fellow soldiers at risk since you could spread the disease to them.

At the same time, inoculation under the right conditions became the sensible action for most.  As I mentioned in an earlier episode, Martha Washington received an inoculation in May 1776 before joining her husband at his command of the army.

Members of Congress had advised General John Thomas to get inoculated before he took command of the northern army in Canada. Thomas demurred.  He wanted to be an example to his men, who were not allowed to be inoculated.  As a result, his death became an example of what happens when you enter a smallpox infected area without protection.

By early 1777, General Washington was convinced of the necessity of inoculation.  In a letter to William Shippen in January, he wrote:
Finding the smallpox to be spreading much and fearing that no precaution can prevent it from running thro' the whole of our Army, I have determined that the Troops shall be inoculated. This Expedient may be attended with some inconveniences and some disadvantages, but yet I trust, in its consequences will have the most happy effects. Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army, in the natural way, and rage with its usual Virulence, we should have more to dread from it, than from the sword of the enemy. ... If the business is immediately begun and favored with the common success, I would fain hope [the soldiers] will be soon fit for duty, and that in a short space of time we shall have an Army not subject to this, the greatest of all calamities that can befall it, when taken in the natural way.
Even after some officers became convinced of the importance of inoculation, they continued to face opposition.  When Major General William Heath announced a plan to inoculate his army, local officials in Massachusetts voted to stop it for fear his inoculated soldiers would spread the disease to local civilians.  At times, more than one third of the Continental Army was unfit for duty, largely due to smallpox.

Edward Jenner
(from Wikimedia)
Despite opposition, by 1777, Washington ordered that his soldiers be inoculated and that new recruits be inoculated and isolated for several weeks before joining the army in the field.  Even so, it took time to implement these orders.  Washington was still reporting small outbreaks in 1778.  Despite some lapses, the inoculations had the intended effect.  In 1778 and 1779, rates of soldiers unfit for duty due to illness dropped from heights of over one-third to less than ten percent.

It was not until after the war ended, that a better inoculation came into being.  In 1796 a British scientist named Edward Jenner figured out that a similar, but less deadly disease, known as cowpox, was similar enough to smallpox that victims of cowpox were immune to smallpox.  He developed an inoculation that did not subject recipients to even a small risk of death and which would not transmit smallpox to others.  Jenner named his cure after the Latin name for cowpox, which is vaccinia.  And that, boys and girls, is where we get the name vaccine.

It would take nearly 200 years of the use of Jenner’s vaccine to eradicate smallpox.  The last known naturally occurring infection ended in 1977.

Disease Prevention

Smallpox was the worst but was far from the only disease that ravaged the continent during the Revolution.  Measles, mumps, typhus, typhoid, malaria, influenza, dysentery, and others all struck the army at various times leading to illness and sometimes death, although the death rates were much lower than for smallpox.

When the British army invaded the south in the later part of the war, it suffered greatly from malaria and other tropical diseases.  Local patriots who had contracted malaria at earlier times, had developed some immunity, giving them a real advantage.

Early 19th Cent. cartoon an overcrowded room, captioned
wonderful effects of cowpox (from Army Heritage)
Many diseases were caused simply by poor conditions.  Soldiers would urinate and defecate in camps rather than digging latrine pits.  Although science did not understand germs, there was an understanding that such conditions, in addition to creating a horrible stench, did somehow lead to disease.

In 1776 a German manual called “The Diseases Incident to Armies With the Method of Cure" was published in Philadelphia.  It gave advice such as providing fresh foods when possible, and not cramming soldiers together in small spaces for prolonged periods of time.  It also recommended good clothing and selecting dry areas for setting up camps.

General Washington put a particular emphasis on cleanliness and ordered punishments for soldiers who did not comply.  Dr. Benjamin Rush, who served in the Continental Congress, published a pamphlet called “Directions for preserving the health of soldiers” where he divided his advice into five sections: Dress, Diet, Cleanliness, Encampments, and Exercise.

General Friedrich von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian army who is probably best remembered for bringing organized drill to the Continental Army at Valley Forge, was also a big proponent of maintaining clean conditions in order to prevent disease. He wrote that:
The preservation of the soldiers health should be [a regimental commander’s] first and greatest care; and as that depends in great measure on their cleanliness and manner of living, he must have a watchful eye over the officers of companies, that they pay the necessary attention to their men in those respects.
Von Steuben went on to instruct that officers must remove anyone with an infectious disease to a hospital immediately, or if no hospital available, isolate the solder to prevent the spread of infection.  He also noted the shared responsibility to keep camps clean for health purposes.  Important rules included keeping latrines at least three hundred feet from tents, and that latrine pits, which he called “sinks” be filled and redug at least every four days, more often in warm weather.

Despite the good advice, and efforts to enforce better conditions, I’ve seen estimates that death rates from disease in the Continental Army were nearly twice that of the British and Hessian Armies.  Part of that can probably be attributed to the more strict implementation of rules among the professional European armies and built up immunity among soldiers who had been exposed to disease over many past campaigns.  Part of it could also be attributed to the Continental army having less money to feed, clothe, and provide shelter for soldiers in the field.

Although this disparity in deaths from disease seemed to narrow over the course of the war, it remained the leading cause of death by far for both sides.  Experienced soldiers knew that the real threat did not come from the enemy.  It came from an invisible attacker that was far more lethal.

Next week: Burgoyne's Northern Army in Canada prepares to invade upstate New York.

- - -

Next Episode 143 Burgoyne's Northern Army

Previous Episode 141 Congress Returns to Philadelphia

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American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account.
Mike Troy

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You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option for people who want to make monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.  Thanks again!

Further Reading


Museum of the American Revolution “Fighting Infection”

A Deadly Scourge: Smallpox During the Revolutionary War:

Becker, Ann M. “Smallpox in Washington's Army: Strategic Implications of the Disease during the American Revolutionary War.” The Journal of Military History, vol. 68, no. 2, 2004, pp. 381–430.

Bayne-Jones, Stanhope The Evolution of Preventive Medicine in the United States Army, 1607-1939, Part III The American Revolutionary War and First Years of the Republic:

Kantrow, Louise. “Life Expectancy of the Gentry in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 133, no. 2, 1989, pp. 312–327:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Rush, Benjamin, Directions for preserving the health of soldiers : addressed to the officers of the Army of the United States, Philadelphia : Printed for Thomas Dobson, Fry and Kammerer, printers, 1808 (originally published 1777).

Swieten, Gerard, Freiherr van The diseases incident to armies: With the method of cure, Philadelphia: R. Bell, 1776.

Gillett, Mary C. The Army Medical Department 1775-1818, Center of Military History, 1981 (

Thacher, James The American Revolution: from the commencement to the disbanding of the American army; given in the form of a daily journal, with the exact dates of all the important events; also, a biographical sketch of all the most prominent generals, American Subscription Pub. House, 1860 (originally published 1823) (or buy a printed copy, see below).

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Abrams, Jeanne E. Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health, NYU Press, 2013.

Coss, Stephen The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics, Simon & Schuster, 2016.

Fenn, Elizabeth A. Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82, Hill and Wang, 2001.

Petriello, David Bacteria and Bayonets: The Impact of Disease in American Military History, Casemate, 2016.

Reiss, Oscar Medicine and the American Revolution: How Diseases and Their Treatments Affected the Colonial Army, McFarland & Company, 1998 (book recommendation of the week).

Thacher, James An Army Doctor's American Revolution Journal, 1775–1783, Dover Publications, 2019 (reprint of free ebook, see above).

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Episode 141 Congress Returns to Philadelphia

When we last left Congress in the winter of 1776-77, they had fled Philadelphia for Baltimore.  The British in New Jersey had threatened to take Philadelphia and the politicians did not want to be there if that happened.

General Washington, of course, eliminated that threat when he crossed the Delaware, captured the enemy at Trenton and Princeton, then forced the British and Hessians to pull back their front lines to the area of North Jersey around New York City.  With the threat removed, Congress returned to Philadelphia in March 1777.  Not everyone else returned though.  John Adams, in a letter to his wife, noted that “more than one half of the inhabitants removed themselves into the country.  Most of those who remained were Quakers" who Adams called “as dull as beetles.

Debate on the Articles of Confederation

Although everyone expected that British would make another attempt on Philadelphia in the summer of 1777, for the moment there was no emergency.  Congress once again turned its attention to Articles of Confederation, a document that would authorize and define Congress’ authority to do anything.  They did not actually agree on much of anything, but did agree to devote at least two days each week to working out an agreeable plan.  By the end of April, they had agreed to three articles.  One which contained the name of the document, a second which affirmed that each of the separate states retained their sovereignty, and a third, to mutual defense of all states against any outside enemy.  In other words, fighting together in the war that they had already been fighting for two years.

The second article was the only one that proved contentious.  Congress had begun its debates using draft articles submitted by John Dickinson.  The Dickinson draft envisioned a more powerful national government that would handle most matters, leaving states only control over their internal affairs.  The delegates rejected this approach.  Instead, the majority viewed Congress as an international assembly of separate states.  They would work together for mutual defense.  They might unanimously agree to do some other things in cooperation, but there was no way a state could be forced by the others to do anything it did not want to do.

Over the next few months, the delegates debated what additional powers the states should give to the Congress, but could not agree on much of anything.  Once again the most contentious issues were over voting and representation, whether states should be represented by population or with equal representation for each state.  These debates pushed on for months, when in July, Congress once again voted to table debates on the Articles since they could not reach any consensus.  Congress would just continue to operate without any guiding document.

Flag Day

Congress took up other various matters on other issues during this same time.  On June 14, 1777, it passed a resolution saying “That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”  That is why we celebrate Flag Day on June 14.

Hopkinson Flag (from Wikipedia)
Back in Episode 89, I talked about the story of Betsy Ross creating the first flag in May 1776.  I mentioned at the time that there was no good contemporary evidence of the Betsy Ross story being true.  The story comes from Ross family lore and was not written down until decades after all the contemporaries were dead.  It is still quite possible that the story is true.  The flag’s creation was not a momentous event that would necessarily be recorded at the time.  There was no record of it being flown at that time, and congress did not authorize as the official flag until 1777.

Congress’ main purpose for the resolution in 1777 was to create a standard ensign for naval ships.  It did not specify that the stars on the flag be put in a circle.  There are some flags from that time that have different star designs.  The first mention of the sight of the new flag came a few months later, in August 1777.  Making Flag Day a day of celebration did not become a thing until more than a century later, after the Civil War.

First Independence Day Celebration

Congress was ready for one celebration.  At the end of the day on July 2, Congress adjourned for two days to celebrate the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  On July 4, 1777 Congress and all of Philadelphia celebrated.  Warships and gallies gathered at Philadelphia decorated in red, white and blue, and with streamers.  Each of the ships fired a thirteen gun volley in honor of the thirteen independent states.  A newspaper article reported that
The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal. Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more.
According to another report, a band made up of Hessian POWs from Trenton played for crowds in Philadelphia that day as well.

New Generals

Another contentious issue for Congress was the promotion of generals.  That spring, Congress commissioned a few more brigadier generals: George Clinton of New York, Edward Hand of Pennsylvania, Charles Scott of Virginia, Ebenezer Learned of Massachusetts, and Jedediah Huntington of Connecticut.

Gen. Edward Hand
(from Rock Ford Plantation)
During the Baltimore session, Congress had agreed to give primary consideration to three factors when promoting generals.  One was merit.  The second was seniority. The third was the numbers of troops supplied by each state.  In other words, a state that provided more soldiers to the army should get more general officers.  Of course, each of these were general factors, with no firm rule on how they should be applied or even how much weight each would be given.  So it really did not solve anything.

But whatever little value the resolution had got thrown out the window when French officers began to arrive with notes from the American Commissioners in Paris promising them commissions and officers in the Continental Army.  These men had no seniority, were not from any state that supplied troops, and whose merit was a matter of debate.  Most did not even speak English.  In March, after receiving word of dozens of French officers making their way to America, Congress passed a resolution saying that unless the officer had mastered English and had top recommendations, he would not be accepted.  The problem was, Congress could not simply anger French officers who had taken the trouble to come across the ocean to America with promises already made. Turning them away would possible ruin chances of forming a military alliance with France. In the spring of 1777 many of the French officers promised commissions as general or other high ranking officers arrived in America.

Up until this time the only French general in the Continental army was Mattias de Fermoy.  He was the soldier of fortune who somehow sailed to America from the French West Indies in late 1776.  To this day, we know nothing about his real background before coming to America.  He claimed to be a colonel of engineers in the French army, although there are no records of his service.  I mentioned him in Episode 125 when he commanded a small force near Trenton, and at the first sight of the enemy, ran away, abandoning his soldiers.  People were beginning to suspect he was a fraud, but for now was still serving.  Many by 1777 were ready to consider any Frenchmen claiming titles and experience to be imposters.

Conway and de Borre

Silas Deane, however, had already approved dozens of French officers to serve in America.  Many of them attempted to sail in December 1776 aboard the three ships that Deane and his French partner Beaumarchais had packed full of supplies and planned to sail out of La Havre.  I mentioned this back in Episode 115, when the British Ambassador Lord Stormont caught wind of the venture and forced foreign minister Vergennes to shut the whole thing down.  Only one ship got out, but it turned around and got blocked as well.

Most of the officers looked for another option.  The first one to make it successfully was Lieutenant Colonel Philippe Hubert Preudhomme de Borre.  He arrived in Portsmouth, NH on March 17, 1777 aboard the Mercure, one of Deane’s supply ships that was able to make its way to America.  In April, Congress approved de Borre’s commission, and backdated de Borre’s date of commision as brigadier to December 1, 1776.  This retroactively put him ahead of sixteen other brigadiers who had received commissions since then.

De Borre was almost 50 years old.  He had fought as a cavalry officer in the War of Austrian Succession, where he was badly wounded and lost the use of one hand.  Although still an active officer in the Seven Years War, there is no record of his active participation in any battles.  Before leaving for America, he was serving as an artillery brigadier, an area the Continentals needed experienced officers.  He took command of a brigade of mostly Maryland regiments, along with one from Quebec, which was made up of many French-speaking soldiers.

A month later, another of Deane’s supply ships, the Amphritrite, arrived in Portsmouth, this time carrying to men holding commissions as generals Thomas Conway as brigadier and Philippe Charles Tronson du Coudray as a major general. The Amphritrite was the ship that had gotten away in December, but then returned back to France a few days later.  It finally slipped out of France at the end of January, and made a difficult three month voyage to New Hampshire. The officers then made their way overland to Philadelphia to present their credentials.

Gen. Thomas Conway
(from Wikimedia)
I mentioned Conway last week when he commanded troops at the battle of Short Hills, but did not give any background on him at that time.  Conway was born an Irish Catholic.  His family moved to France when he was a child to escape the restrictions put on Catholics in Ireland.  Conway joined the French Army at age 14 in France’s Irish Brigade, a special group for Irish expats serving in France.  Through his service, he rose to the rank of colonel.  Because Conway was not only an experienced officer, but also spoke English, Congress approved his commission as brigadier in May, just a few weeks after his arrival.  Conway entered service as an infantry commander.

Coudray was another matter. Deane had offered him command of artillery and engineering for the Continental Army.  The current commander, General Henry Knox, made clear he that would resign from the army if Congress put him under the command of Coudray.  Congress spent most of the summer debating what to do with him.  Coudray busied himself by advising on the Delaware River defenses protecting Philadelphia from a naval invasion.

Finally in August, nearly four months after he arrived in America, Congress offered Coudray a commission as a major general, but with the understanding that he would not be part of the command structure.  Instead Congress created a new position of "Inspector General of Ordnance and Military Manufactories" where he could advise on matters, but not issue orders.  Coudray reluctantly accepted the position, figuring he could make his way into command after proving his worth in the field.

There were a bunch of other French officers I neglected to mention because even just limiting myself to naming the generals is throwing a bunch of names out that no one will remember.  I’ll make one exception to that rule and also note that Louis Duportail received a commission in July as a Continental colonel and commander of engineers.  I made an exception for him since he would be promoted to brigadier in a few months and has one of the longest and most successful roles of all the French officers in the Continental Army.  But Congress was also receiving dozens of French officers who had been promised commissions as colonels, majors and captains.

The French Keep Coming

While Congress was still deciding what to do, more than a dozen other French officers made it to Philadelphia holding promises of commissions granted by Silas Deane in Paris.  Three of the officers had been promised commissions as major generals.  Initially, Congress just said no.  They did not want more general officers who could not speak English.  That just created too many problems.

Gen. Johann de Kalb
(from Wikimedia)
The French officers persisted in making their case. One of the most persistent was the least experienced officer, the nineteen year old French captain named Gilbert du Motier.  Although the boy had no combat experience, he had been an officer since the age of thirteen when his family obtained a lieutenant’s commission.  Since his family was very well connected to the French King, Congress did not want to insult him.  Probably most importantly, he offered to serve without pay.  By the end of July, Congress opted to make this young man a major general in the Continental Army.  So du Motier, better known by his aristocratic title, the Marquis de Lafayette, received his commission on July 31, 1777.

With Lafayette were two more senior officers and would be major generals. General Johann De Kalb, a German-born officer in the French army, was the most senior officer to travel to America. He and Colonel Charles-Louis, vicomte de Mauroy both expected to be made major generals. Unlike Lafayette, both very much expected to get paid.  Instead, Congress dithered and left these men cooling their heels in Philadelphia for the rest of the summer.

I want to devote an entire episode to Lafayette’s backstory in a few weeks.  So I’ll get more into the story of these other men at that time.

Arnold Comes to Philadelphia

Congress took care of one other important piece of business regarding generals.  After receiving word of Benedict Arnold’s brave leadership during the Danbury Raid (see Episode 135), Congress finally promoted him to major general on May 2.  For Arnold, this was too little, too late.  We went from being the most senior brigadier general to the most junior major general, meaning the promotion did nothing to change his place in the command structure.

Gen. Benedict Arnold
(from Lake Champlain)
After receiving word of his promotion, Arnold traveled to Philadelphia to meet directly with Congress.  He brought with him a pamphlet published by one of his enemies, Colonel John Brown which ended famously with an accusation levied against Arnold: “Money is this man’s god, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country.”  Arnold thought such scurrilous attacks were the reason Congress had been reluctant to promote him and wanted a hearing to challenge such accusations.

The Board of War, headed by John Adams, allowed Arnold to give testimony at a committee meeting on May 21, that ran well into the night.  It was not the full hearing Arnold wanted, but did give him the chance to tell his side of things directly to members of Congress.  Two days later, the Board of War presented a report to Congress exonerating Arnold of the charges against him.  Congress, however, refused to act on restoring Arnold’s seniority.  After nearly two months of waiting, Arnold had enough and submitted his resignation to Congress.

Before Congress could act, it also received a letter from General Washington informing Congress that the British had begun their invasion of upstate New York.  Washington recommended that Arnold be sent immediately to help defend against this invasion.  Arnold asked that his resignation request be put on hold and rushed off to fight another battle in defense of his country.

On August 8, after Arnold had left for New York, Congress finally took up the resolution to adjust Arnold’s seniority, and voted against it, overwhelmingly.  Even John Adams, who seemed to have a good impression of Arnold voted no.  The main reason seemed to be that Arnold was pressuring them to do it.  Congress thought such pressure was inappropriate.  As Arnold fought the battles of Saratoga, Congress denied his request for seniority.

Leaving Philadelphia, Again 

Shortly after its independence day celebrations, Congress received word of the British capture of Fort Ticonderoga and that British General Johnny Burgoyne was marching south through New York’s Mohawk Valley.  A few weeks later, Congress learned that British General Howe had left New York and then landed in Maryland where he would assault Philadelphia from the south.

General Washington marched his army from New Jersey toward the British.  On August 24, 1777, just days after confirmation that Howe’s fleet was in the Chesapeake Bay, the Continental Army marched through the streets of Philadelphia on their way south.  This was a bit of theater by General Washington.  He wanted to impress the city and Congress with his army of around 12,000 men.

Washington gave orders the night before to make sure the officers and men were ready to march smartly through the city street carrying their arms smartly.  The army marched down Front Street to Chestnut, then across the city, marching right past Independence Hall toward the Schuylkill River.

Wagons with baggage and extra ammunition, as well female camp followers were redirected around the city and would not march through Philadelphia along with the soldiers.  Orders also prohibited officers and men from stepping out of line for any reason during the march through the city, on punishment of 39 lashes to be carried out at camp the next night if they did.

John Adams was not overly impressed by the sight of the army.  In a letter to Abigail later that day, he wrote:
The Army, upon an accurate Inspection of it, I find to be extreamly well armed, pretty well cloathed, and tolerably disciplined….—Much remains yet to be done. Our soldiers have not yet, quite the Air of Soldiers. They dont step exactly in Time. They dont hold up their Heads, quite erect, nor turn out their Toes, so exactly as they ought. They dont all of them cock their Hats—and such as do, dont all wear them the same Way.
Adams when on to say that with the army now between the enemy and Philadelphia, he felt as safe there as he would in Braintree.  That sense of safety did not last long.  General Howe fought a series of battles that fall, which will all be topics of future episodes.  By September, Philadelphia was about to fall to the British army.  Congress once again had to flee the city.  This time they went first to York, Pennsylvania which is about 65 miles west of Philadelphia, then to Lancaster, which is another 20 miles further west, and across the Susquehanna River.  Congress would remain there for the course of the British occupation of Philadelphia.

- - -

Next Episode 142 Disease and the Revolution

Previous Episode 140 The Battle of Short Hills

Click here to donate
American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account.
Mike Troy

Click here to see my Patreon Page
You can support the American Revolution Podcast as a Patreon subscriber.  This is an option for people who want to make monthly pledges.  Patreon support will give you access to Podcast extras and help make the podcast a sustainable project.  Thanks again!

Further Reading 


First Fourth of July Celebration:

John Brown warns about Arnold:

Procknow, Gene "Personal Honor and Promotion among Revolutionary Generals and Congress" Journal of the American Revolution, January 23, 2018

Continental Generals by Date of Commission:

Kite, Elizabeth S. “LaFayette and his Companions on the Victoire” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 45, no. 1, 1934, pp. 1–32. JSTOR,

Kite, Elizabeth S. “LaFayette and his Companions on the Victoire(Continued).” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 45, no. 2, 1934, pp. 144–178. JSTOR,

Kite, Elizabeth S. “LaFayette and his Companions on the Victoire (Continued).” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 45, no. 3, 1934, pp. 212–245. JSTOR,

Kite, Elizabeth S. “LaFayette and his Companions on the Victoire (Continued)” Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, vol. 45, no. 4, 1934, pp. 275–311. JSTOR,

Letter, John Adams to Abigail Adams, August 24, 1777, Founders Online, National Archives,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Journals of Congress,Vol. 3 January 1, 1777 - January 1, 1778.

Adams, John Quincy Life of General Lafayette, Napis & Cornish 1847.

Crow, Martha Foote Lafayette, The MacMillan Company, 1918.

Headley, P. C. The Life of the General Lafayette, Marquis of France, General in the United States Army, etc., C. M. Saxton, 1860.

Howe, Archibald Murray Colonel John Brown, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the Brave Accuser of Benedict Arnold, Geo. H. Ellis Co. 1908.

Kapp, Friedrich The Life of John Kalb, Major-General in the Revolutionary Army, H. Holt & Co. 1884.

Lowery, Robert A Complete History of the Marquis de Lafayette, self-published, 1826

Smith, John Spear Memoir of the Baron de Kalb, Maryland Historical Society, 1858.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Leepson, Marc Lafayette, Lessons in Leadership from the Idealist General, Palgrave-MacMillion, 2011.

Montross, Lynn The Reluctant Rebels, Harper & Brothers, 1950.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.