Continental Army

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The Continental Army was the unified command structure of the thirteen colonies fighting Great Britain during the American Revolutionary War. The Army was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775. Most of the Continental Army was disbanded on November 3, 1783 after the Treaty of Paris. A small residual force remained at West Point and some frontier outposts, until Congress created the United States Army by their resolution of June 3, 1784.



General George Washington, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army on June 15, 1775.
General George Washington, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army on June 15, 1775.

In 1775 the Continental Congress felt that the union of the colonies was complete, not withstanding that Georgia was not yet represented in the congress. On June 7, in a resolution for a general fast, they had spoken, for the first time, of "the twelve United Colonies." To make the bond stronger, they now, on motion of John Adams, adopted the forces at Cambridge as a Continental Army, and proceeded to choose a commander-in-chief. At the suggestion of the New England delegation, Thomas Johnson of Maryland nominated George Washington, of Virginia, then a member of the Congress, for that important office, and he was elected by a unanimous vote. That was on the 15th of June.

When, on the following morning, President John Hancock officially announced to Washington his appointment, that gentleman arose in his place, and formally accepted the office. In his speech on that occasion, after expressing doubts of his ability to perform the duties satisfactorily, he said: "As to pay, sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept the arduous employment at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses. Those, I doubt not, they will discharge, and that is all I desire." Washington was then 43.

Four major-generals and eight brigadier-generals were appointed in the course of a few days. The former were Artemas Ward, Charles Lee, Philip Schuyler, and Israel Putnam; the latter were Seth Pomeroy, Richard Montgomery, David Wooster, William Heath, Joseph Spencer, John Thomas, John Sullivan, and Nathanael Greene.

In the field

At the beginning of June 1775 the army at Cambridge numbered about sixteen thousand men, all New Englanders. General Ward was the chief, and John Thomas was his lieutenant. Richard Gridley was commissioned to command an artillery corps and to be chief engineer, and was assisted by Henry Knox, who had commanded an artillery company in Boston.

The British force in Boston was increasing by fresh arrivals. It numbered then about ten thousand men. Maj. Generals Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne had arrived late in May, and heartily joined General Gage in forming and executing plans for dispersing the rebels. Feeling strong with these veteran officers and soldiers around him, and the presence of several ships-of-war under Admiral Graves, the governor issued a most insulting proclamation, declaring martial law, branding those citizens in arms, and their abettors, as "rebels" and "parricides of the Constitution," and offering pardon to all who should forthwith return to their allegiance, excepting Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were reserved for condign punishment as traitors. This proclamation produced intense indignation throughout the province. Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, "All the records of time cannot produce a blacker page. Satan, when driven from the regions of bliss, exhibited not more malice. Surely the father of lies is superseded. Yet we think it the best proclamation he could have issued."

Alexander Hamilton first gained public notice as captain of a New York artillery company of the Continental Army, and later as Washington's de facto chief of staff.

Throughout its existence, the army was troubled by poor logistics, spotty training, short-term enlistments, interstate rivalries, and Congress's inability to compel the states to provide food, money or supplies. Gen. Washington led the army to more defeats than victories, but he learned from his mistakes and won several great victories, as at Trenton, Princeton and Yorktown (see below). Washington held the army together through eight years of hard war, sometimes by sheer force of will, and was very careful to always uphold the principle of civilian control of the military. Washington suppressed several mutinies in the army, often caused by lack of food or very late or insufficient pay.

Washington resigned his post when the Treaty of Paris was signed with the British in 1783, ending the war and confirming American independence. His willing yielding of power, at a time when many would have given him a crown, was crucial in averting a military dictatorship in the United States, and helped ensure that democracy would take root.

After the war, the officers of the Continental Line formed the Society of the Cincinnati in May of 1783. They elected General George Washington as President of the Society, and he served as President until his death in 1799. The Society has remained active since its formation in 1783, and is represented by the descendants of the officers of the respective State lines, as well as of France.

Major battles

See also

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