Continental Army Privates

About the author

Edward St. Germain.
Edward St. Germain

Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.

Editor’s note

The following is a chapter from the book “The Private Soldier Under Washington” written by Charles Knowles Bolton in 1902. The book helps to explain the conditions that Continental soldiers experienced during the American Revolution.

The book contains fascinating letters and notes written by soldiers during the war, which you may find contain some outdated spellings of certain words compared to modern English.


The Revolutionary rank and file, when their uniforms were fresh, were a picture for the eye, with their cocked hats decked with sprigs of green, their hair white with flour, their fringed hunting shirts, and their leather or brown duck breeches. Many were boys; some at the opening of the war were under sixteen, with the virtues and vices of youth. They were eager for adventure, and every strange sight and custom made its impress upon them. In the Quebec expedition the way-side crosses and the chapel interiors, rich in color, interested the soldiers; in the march against the Six Nations, Indian superstitions and habits of life were described in almost every diary, and in the southern colonies the peculiarity of slavery attracted the attention of the men from the north. Through travel and contact with the world there was an opportunity for the earnest soldier of good principles to widen his horizon and broaden his sympathies: the Yankee, the Dutchman, and the Southerner came to know more of one another.

Some of those who could write kept diaries. These journals have many references to the weird and the unusual, and they show a rough humor. In this respect they reflect the taste of the time. Privates, even those who rose to the commissioned ranks, spelled many words by sound. When this spelling indicates peculiarities in pronunciation it gives some impression of the language of the camp-fire. David How, of Methuen, was a private of the Massachusetts line, with all the sharpness and oddities that characterize a New England farmer. In his diary there is a consistency of error which amounts to a dialect. He always wrote whept for whipped, and the same tendency is evident in the use of splet meaning split, steant for stint, and a pecking up for picking up. A New Englander, therefore, seems to have pronounced short i as though it had the sound of e in get; he reversed the sounds in words which properly have short e, saying ridgment for regiment, git for get, wint instead of went, lit for let, etc. Private John White, also a New Englander, used a for e and i so persistently that the nasal twang is very evident, as in his use of sarten for certain, prants for prints, lave for leave, sands for sends, and wall for well.1

Privates How and Fisher treated r much as it is treated to-day in New England. They wrote Salletoga for Saratoga, Dodgster for Dorchester, soyloin for sirloin, yestoday for yesterday, and afte instead of after; but where no r occurs or where it is not emphasized they made it prominent, by writing for teag in place of fatigue, cateridges for cartridges (always), arams for arms, warter for water, and carstle for castle. Other pronunciations, as valible for valuable, bargon for bargain, jine for join, and jest for just are not uncommon to-day. “Privateer” was a stumbling-block that had to be overcome in those exciting days, and How bravely wrote “privitesters,” and “priviteteres” to convey his meaning. Phrases now unused appear in diaries, as “lit of,” meaning met, “for to go to Boston,” and “sase money” (an allowance for vegetables). The impression which proper names made upon the mind of a private soldier may be inferred from his use of Hushing (Hessians), Dullerway (Delaware), Vinkearne (Lincoln) and Markis Delefiat or Delefiatee. It should not be forgotten, however, that on the whole the English language as spoken by the more educated colonists was purer than the speech of Englishmen whose lives were confined to such counties as Devon and Yorkshire.2

The soldiers had their own designations for their enemies and friends; the British were commonly called “lobsters,”3 and new recruits were, it is said, spoken of as “the long-faced people.”4

Keeping a diary in all kinds of weather, with no table to write upon, poor quills and thick ink, and hands numb with cold, or stiff from guard duty, was an Achievement which must command respect. As the scratchy pen was driven slowly across the fibrous paper in the flickering glare of the camp-fire, the writer, with brows puckered to concentrate his thoughts and keep from his mind a babel of voices, put down much that was instructive and amusing. To one the Sunday text was worthy of note, to another the current price of shoes or the details of an execution for crime. Mr. How was careful to record deaths, and after each name a heavy black line completed the entry as a proper mark of mourning. Sam Haws, of Wrentham, was particular about the appearance of his pages, and when he made a blot in his Journal he added: “o you nasty Sloven how your Book Looks.”5

Elijah Fisher, referred to above, studied diligently when opportunity offered. His diary, in February, 1780, states: “I stayes [with Mr. Wallis] and follows my Riting and sifering the same as I had Dun the Evnings before, for Every Evning from six of the Clock till Nine I used to follow my study.” Under date of October 17th this quaint note appears in his book: “I agreed with Sarjt Sm. Whippels to stay one month with him after my time was out and so do his Duty and he was to larn me to Rite and sifer and what other larning would be eassy.” It is pleasant to know that this training proved of value the next year, when the absence of the captain, one lieutenant, and both sergeants for a time threw much of the care of the company upon his shoulders.6

The retreat from Bunker Hill was mortifying to the defeated participants, officers as well as men, who found fault with the insufficient powder and reenforcements. The Americans were on a peninsula the approach to which could be commanded by a British man-of-war. They did not realize that longer occupation might have induced the British to cut off their line of escape and starve them into surrender. A quick defeat for which the enemy paid heavily both in lives and in prestige did more for America than possession of the defences on the hill for another night could possibly have done. Until a soldier acquired sufficient education to fit him for an officer’s commission he was not thrown with men who heard the current news at head-quarters; his horizon, therefore, was limited, and a battle, far reaching in its influence upon events, meant no more to him than a chance encounter.

A private at the battle of Long Island, ignorant of the critical state of the patriot cause on that memorable occasion, states the facts very quietly:

27. Our army on long Island Have ben Engaged in battle With the Enimy and Killd And taken a good many on Both sides.

29. This night our army on long Island All left it & Brought all their Bagage to N. York.7

The same soldier thus described the battle of Trenton:

26. This morning at 4 a Clock We set off with our Field pieces Marchd 8 miles to Trenton Whare we ware Atacked by a Number of Hushing [Hessians] & we Toock 1000 of them besides killed Some Then we marchd back And got to the River at Night And got over all the Hushing.

28. This Day we have ben washing Our things.8

The writer declined to heed the general’s entreaty to remain in service for six weeks longer, drew his wages and “sase money,” and marched for home, missing by two days the famous engagement at Princeton. The soldier’s inability to comprehend the state of affairs at critical periods may account often for a seeming lack of patriotism, as in the case just cited, but on the other hand his ignorance kept his heart light. Colonel Cadwalader, less than a fortnight before the battle of Trenton, closed a letter to Robert Morris by saying that he had been led into a complaining tone “by the d-d gloomy countenances seen wherever I go except among the soldiers.”9

When given a chance the privates did their share of thinking; in the execution of large plans this was a disadvantage, since the machine-like corps could better be reckoned with than the body of individuals. In 1776 a skirmish took place between a party of straggling soldiers and some Hessians who held a rocky eminence between the termination of Mount Washington and King’s Bridge. Two Pennsylvania privates advanced up the hill and opened fire; they were soon joined by a few recruits, who soon silenced the Hessian guns. Seeing this, a detachment of about fifty of the enemy set off to aid their outposts. By this time the little group of volunteers numbered twenty or more; without officers to consult, they talked over the matter among themselves, and decided to form into three divisions, one to attack the rocky defences of the enemy and two to circle the position in order to fall upon it in the rear or to meet the advancing reenforcements. The manoeuvre was entirely successful, for the outpost retreated to avoid falling into the trap, and the Americans took and held the rocky stronghold until darkness came on.10

In any large number of men some there are who will study and think for themselves, ready or preparing to influence and lead; but too many are indolent and heedless. When Mrs. Esther Reed in 1780 offered to Washington the 300,634 paper dollars which the ladies of Philadelphia had raised for the army, she proposed to turn this sum into specie and present to each soldier two “hard” dollars. The Commander replied that he preferred a shirt for each man, as money would induce drinking and discord.11 The payment of wages often led to disorder, as intimated by a private at Cambridge in his remark: “Peace with our enemy, but disturbance enough with rum, for our men got money yesterday.”12

Rum was an article of daily consumption, and its evil effects must have balanced whatever of good it did. It was drunk “to the health and success of the ladies,”13 to celebrate victories, to encourage enlisting, by fatigue parties to counteract the strain of hard work in bad weather, and even more liberally when there was no object in view; when taken early in the morning, unmixed with water, it impaired the health of the men;14 and in long marches the hard drinker was most apt to suffer.15 At the siege of Boston Sam Haws, a private, experienced the not unusual effects of merry-making. “We turned out,” he says, “and went to the Larm post and it was very cold, and we came home and there was a high go of Drinking Brandy, and several of the company were taken not well prety soon after.”16 David How tells the story of two men at Cambridge who fell to bantering one another as to who could drink the most. This led to excessive drinking, from which one of the men died in an hour or two.17 Upon another occasion John Coleman “drinkt 3 pints of cyder at one draught,”18 a feat that excited comment. James McDaniel was so eager for rum that he forged an order to obtain it.19 To check excessive drinking, spirits were allowed to be sold in one place only within the limits of each brigade, and sutlers were sometimes enjoined from selling after the retreat had been sounded at sunset.20

Hard cider was much used, as it still is in country towns, in place of distilled liquors. The story is told of a private, then not over sixteen years of age, who was taunted in camp with being homesick until he lost his patience and attempted to thrash his persecutor. At first unsuccessful, he called for quarter, but, receiving none, he fought desperately and worsted his antagonist. The affair became the talk of the company and reached the ears of the captain. The two men – boys they really were – soon came up before their comrades to receive whatever public punishment the captain thought meet. Amid silence he looked sternly at the culprits, angular and tall, poorly clad by their province, and as poorly fed, youthful and perhaps a little frightened; he allowed his eyes to rest on their bronzed faces, for he knew them well; then in the hush he said, “You are ordered for punishment to drink together a mug of cider.” After the first instant’s astonishment the laughter that followed was proof that the captain knew the failings of his men.

Sensuality is not often mentioned in the diaries or letters of the soldiers, although references are not wanting. Stealing, however, was not uncommon. Lieutenant Burton lost his “cotten” shirt by a ‘bold Theefe”;21 and a soldier for stealing a cheese was whipped thirty lashes.22 Samuel Haws has related how in the camp near Boston, in October, 1775, a “Rifle man [was] whipt 39 stripes for Stealing and afterwards he was Drummed out of the camps; if the infernal regions had ben opened and cain and Judas and Sam Haws had been present their could not have ben a biger uproar.”23

Swearing was a habit which Washington tried in vain to check; the coarse language of many of the men shocked him as it did others. A clergyman, referring to the New York troops who were with Arnold in 1776, remarked that “it would be a dreadful hell to live with such creatures forever.”24 But to suppose that there was no strong religious leaven in the army would be a mistake. Corporal Farnsworth, of Groton, found a young soldier with whom he could converse freely on spiritual things, and said, with a grateful heart: “I find God has a Remnant in this Depraved and Degenerated and gloomy time.”25

While every army has its men of low principles, they weigh little in the winning or losing of campaigns if the great majority are efficient and brave.

The Americans as a pioneer people were accustomed to danger, and they were familiar with fire-arms.26 Men might be relegated to the “awkward squad” to learn manners,27 but the polish would cover a stout heart. Sir William Johnson wrote that the British ministry must not look upon the Americans as cowards who would not fight;28 while Anburey commented on their “courage and obstinacy,” which had already astonished the officers under Burgoyne.29 A Continental soldier who had been at Bunker Hill remarked that he would to God that his people had as good courage in the spiritual warfare as they had in the temporal.30 Not to multiply statements, the testimony of a Tory of New York may be given as final evidence of reasonable courage shown by the American troops; commenting on the fighting in New Jersey in June, 1780, he remarked of the rebels: “They were mostly militia, and stood and fought better than ever before.”31

No doubt the militia accomplished all that could be fairly expected of men who did not make war a profession. They were subject to panic, but fought well when they knew the land and the purpose of the commander, and were also sure that no trap awaited them. A saying in the army that Gates loved the militia because they would never bring him under fire is a commentary on the private as well as the general.32 But men who were familiar with militia knew what to expect. Dr. John Witherspoon, of New Jersey, speaking in Congress in 1776, reminded the members that at the battle of Preston militia ran like sheep; at Falkirk, in 1746, the speaker himself saw troops “behave fifty times worse” than the Americans had behaved at Long Island.

Washington said of his own troops in 1776: “Place them behind a parapet, a breast-work, stone wall, or any thing that will afford them shelter, and from their knowledge of a firelock, they will give a good account of their enemy; but I am as well convinced, as if I had seen it, that they will not march boldly up to a work nor stand exposed in a plain.”33 A few months later he wrote: “Being fully persuaded that it would be presumption to draw out our young troops into open ground against their superiors both in number and discipline, I have never spared the spade and pickaxe. I confess I have not found that readiness to defend even strong posts at all hazards, which is necessary to derive the greatest benefits from them.”34 Washington wrote these words after the battle of Long Island.

Five days later Lord Percy wrote: “The moment the Rebels fired, our men rushed on them with their Bayonets & never gave them time to load again…I think I may venture to assert, that they will never again stand before us in the Field.”35 Whether this was due to cowardice or inexperience he did not assert, but Curwen, the loyalist, held to the view that the inability of untrained troops to face regulars in the open was no proof of lack of bravery.36

It has been said that Washington’s strength as a commander lay in his readiness to learn a lesson from experience. He discovered very soon the value of earthworks, and persisted in their use without regard to expressions of disapproval from European officers. In Braddock’s campaign his advice to seek protection behind trees had met with disfavor, and now Lee spoke slightingly of hastily made defences, and others considered them destructive of manliness and courage. John Adams represented a certain public impatience when he wrote: “The practice we have hitherto been in, of ditching round about our enemies, will not always do. We must learn to use other weapons than the pick and the spade.”37

The motives which controlled enlistment are not easily defined; patriotism, adventure, money, glory, all have their weight in determining human action. A Frenchman who spent a year in America reported that all the recruits were mercenaries, led by a few patriotic officers.38 So general a charge needs no serious answer, but it may be stated as self-evident that the poorer the soldier of any rank, the more dependent he will be upon the compensation which he receives for his services. The rank and file were no doubt more in need of money than their officers; when it did not come, even in the form of paper, they mutinied; their officers, fortunately, could resign. The charge could not have been true in 1775; later, as it became evident that farmers with children to be supported were unable to remain in the army, their places were taken by young men who made war a profession and expected its rewards.

The heads of families soon found that service in the army Meant starvation for those at home. Through the demands of producers, following the example set by avaricious retailers, the price of necessities rose beyond the reach of the soldiers’ wives. Said a student of the times: “At this rate what will become of thousands of people who depended on their absent friends in the army for a subsistence?” Those who, having no home ties, could go into the army for a small bounty and moderate wages, were carried along by the tide; what the married men required, the young men, seeing their opportunity, were led to demand.39

Claude Blanchard visited the army under Washington at Peekskill in 1781; to his eye the soldiers marched well but handled their arms badly. “There were,” he relates, “some fine looking men; also many who were small and thin, and even some children twelve or thirteen years old. They have no uniforms, and in general are badly clad.”40 It is not difficult to understand the physical condition of men who had clung to army life through its few bright days, and its many days of privation, when one recalls the winter at Valley Forge. It was there that James Thacher, while walking with Washington among the soldiers’ huts, heard voices echoing through the open crevices between the logs, “no pay, no clothes, no provisions, no rum”; and the few who flitted from hut to hut were covered only with dirty and ragged blankets.41

The men were supposed to make as good an appearance on guard and at parade as was possible. They were ordered to have their beards close shaved, their clothes and shoes cleaned,42 and their faces and hands washed.43 When an event of importance occurred the men powdered their hair. South Carolina troops, in 1776, were instructed to have their hair “properly trimmed up and tyed for cap wearing, but without side locks.” Pay for the barbers was obtained by stoppages from the wages of the men.44 In our day powder and long hair seem more suited to a ball-room than a battle-decimated army. The convenience and cleanliness of short hair did not, apparently, receive the serious attention of commanding officers.

Sullivan’s army, 3,000 strong, returned from the Indian country in tatters, “with the remaining parts of their garments hanging in streamers behind them,” yet they had sprigs of evergreen in their caps, and their heads were as white as a wagon-load of flour could make them. The incongruity of the spectacle convulsed the officers and moved the chaplain “to forget his gravity.”45

The language of the private was not that of a mercenary. Wright of the New Jersey line frequently referred in his journal to the Philistines, meaning the enemy, and commented upon the “diabolical rage of the parliamentary tools on Bunker Hill” (then held by the British).46 Another private, a Massachusetts man, referred to “the wicked enemy,”47 and a less restrained writer to “the butchers belonging to the tyrant of Great Britain.”48 Private McCurtin, of Maryland, referred to General Gage during the siege of Boston as “that Crocodile and second Pharoe, namely Tom : Gage.”49 Corporal Farnsworth, a very religious man, spoke of the burning of Charlestown by “that infernal Villain Thomas Gage,” and to the possession of Boston by “our Unnatteral enemyes.”50

Plain speaking and independence of thought were characteristic of a people less bound by class distinctions and therefore less accustomed to obey than those of equal educational and property qualifications in the Old World. These traits made their impress upon events. Said Governor Trumbull: “The pulse of a New England man beats high for liberty. His engagement in the service he thinks purely voluntary – therefore in his estimation, when the time of his enlistment was out, he thinks himself not holden, without further engagement.”51 This feeling accounts for a serious reduction of the army besieging Boston in the winter of 1775-76; as company after company broke camp and marched away, the troops hissed, showing unmistakably that many disapproved of the action.52 Personal loyalty sometimes found its expression in hand-to-hand encounters between the ardent patriots in the army and those whose zeal was open to question. A New Englander, it is said, felt no hesitation, when meeting a half-hearted Nova Scotia volunteer (popularly called a Holy Ghoster), in knocking him down on the spot without pretext or preliminary explanation.

The following picture of the private soldier, singing as he suffered, is by a surgeon at Valley Forge; he studied the details day by day, the humorous and pathetic, the light and the shade: “See the poor Soldier, when in health – with what chearfullness he meets his foes and encounters every hardship – if barefoot – he labours thro’ the Mud & Cold with a Song in his mouth extolling War & Washington53 – if his food be bad – he eats it notwithstanding with seeming content – blesses God for a good Stomach – and whisles it into digestion. But harkee Patience – a moment – There comes a Soldier – His bare feet are seen thro’ his worn Shoes – his legs nearly naked from the tatter’d remains of an only pair of stockings – his Breeches not sufficient to cover his Nakedness – his shirt hanging in Strings – his hair dishevell’d – his face meagre – his whole appearance pictures a person forsaken & discouraged. He comes, and crys with an air of wretchedness & dispair – I am Sick – my feet lame – my legs are sore – my body cover’d with this tormenting Itch – my cloaths are worn out – my Constitution is broken – my former Activity is exhausted by fatigue – hunger & Cold – I fail fast I shall soon be no more! and all the reward I shall get will be___ ‘Poor Will is dead.”54

There was another side to the war picture. Enthusiasm and excitement enabled men, bred to a city life, to endure exposure in the dead of winter that under ordinary circumstances must have proved fatal. Dr. Benjamin Rush has called attention to the apparent effect of the victory at Trenton in 1776 upon some 1,500 Philadelphia militia. During a period of five weeks or more these men, unaccustomed to hardship, slept in barns and upon the bare ground, with a record of only two cases of sickness and one of death. The plain living and comparatively regular hours of camp life are said to have saved some men from consumption and other diseases; while the change of environment from the too frequent irritation and pettiness of village life delivered nervous persons from their own misfortunes and freshened their minds.55

Two questions arise in connection with the men of the Revolution, How many served against Great Britain? and What became of the survivors after the war had closed? General Knox, in a report to Congress, attempted to answer the first of these,56 but his tables are hopelessly confusing, since they are based upon the number of men to be enlisted rather than upon the number of those who engaged themselves, and upon records of the years of their service rather than upon the number of men performing this service.57 By the roughest kind of calculation the total number of men who served as Continentals or as militiamen during any part of the eight years of the war must have been far in excess of 232,000, the usual estimate, based upon Knox’s tables. Many of these men died of wounds or disease, and many more returned to their homes broken in health and without suitable occupation. The names of officers and privates who received pensions have been recorded by the Government from time to time; mention should be made, first, of a list, giving 1,730 pensioners whose names were on the rolls June 1, 1813;58 again, of another, giving about 16,000 names in 1820;59 of a third, three thick volumes60 (a report from the Secretary of War in obedience to resolves of the Senate of June 5th and 30th, 1834, and March 3, 1835); and of a fourth list, a thin volume which appeared in 1840. Portraits of several aged pensioners may be seen in E. B. Hillard’s work on “The Last Men of the Revolution,” and one of Ralph Farnham, called the last survivor of the battle of Bunker Hill, will be found in C. W. Clarence’s biographical sketch of him. Samuel Downing, a private of the New Hampshire line, was the last surviving Revolutionary pensioner under the general acts which placed all State and national pensioners, and finally all men who had served nine months, on the rolls. He died February 18, 1869, at the age of one hundred and seven.61 The last survivor placed on the rolls by special act of Congress was Daniel F. Bakeman, of Cattaraugus County, New York, who died April 5, 1869, at the age of one hundred and nine. As late as June 30, 1899, four widows of soldiers of the war appeared on the pension rolls.62

In the preceding pages officers have been quoted as authorities on the rank and file. It would hardly do to quote seriously the opinions which a private at the age of one hundred and two held in regard to his superiors, but a line from Downing’s observations on each of the great names of the war may, nevertheless, not be out of place:

Of Arnold: A bloody fellow he was. He didn’t care for nothing; he’d ride right in. It was “Come on, boys!” twasn’t “Go, boys!”…there wasn’t any waste timber in him. He was a stern looking man but kind to his soldiers. They didn’t treat him right…but he ought to have been true.

Of Gates: Gates was an “old granny” looking fellow.

Of Washington: Oh! but you never got a smile out of him. He was a nice man. We loved him. They’d sell their lives for him.

Alexander Milliner, another aged pensioner, said:

Of Arnold: Arnold was a smart man; they didn’t sarve him quite straight.

Of Washington: He was a good man, a beautiful man. He was always pleasant; never changed countenance, but wore the same in defeat and retreat as in victory.

Pension legislation relating to the Revolution was summarized by the Commissioner in his report of October 19, 1857.63 The first general act (March 18, 1818) was for the benefit of officers and men in need of assistance who had served in the Continental army or navy to the close of the war or for nine consecutive months, and allowed to privates $8 a month; the act of May 15, 1828, gave to privates in the Continental line who had served to the close of the war the amount of their full pay, whether in need of help or not; the act of June 7, 1832, gave to all persons who had done any military service in the Revolutionary War for six months a fourth of full pay, with increase varying according to the term of service up to two years. These acts were followed by what were known as “the widows’ acts.” The total expenditure to the year 1857 exceeded $60,000,000, or less than one-half the yearly pension appropriation now made on account of later wars. To state the comparison in another way, the Civil War (the chief source of the pension roll) in forty years has cost in pensions forty times what the Revolutionary War cost in eighty years.64 This is a commentary on the growth of the country from 1783 to 1865 in population, territory, and wealth, and perhaps also on an increasing willingness to accept public aid.

In the years immediately following the close of the war the veterans too often were obliged to depend wholly or in part upon friends or children for support; they went from town to town, telling their stories at the village inn or by the fireside to the boys and girls of that time, who have passed them on to our own day. The hardest misfortunes came in the summer of 1783. Elijah Fisher’s experiences are recorded in his journal, and as he had served for several years as a private soldier they may be taken as a fair picture of the trials of the less fortunate enlisted men. He left the “old Jarsey preasen ship” April 9, 1783, and landed in New York City; that night he slept at the City Hall Tavern, where he was well treated and provided with a shirt. He continues:

“The 10th I Leaves Mr. Franceps and so goes about the City to se it and went into Nombers of there shopes and would say your servent gentlefolks, I wish you much joy with the nuse of peace, I hope it will be a long and a lasting one, some of them would be Very well pleased with it and would wish me the same (and others would be on the other hand) and said that their surcomstances poor at preasent but now they hoped they would be better. I said what then do you think of us poor prisners that have neither Money nor frinds and have ben long absent from our homes, then some of of them would pity us and would give us something, some half a Dollar some a quarter, some less, some nothing but frowns.”

The next afternoon Fisher sailed for Boston; he arrived in due time, and the story proceeds:

“The 14th. I Leaves Mr. Brimers at the Planes. I gos through Brookline and in to old Cambridge, from there to the Tenhills and then to Charleston, and then Cross the farray in to Boston, but there was so meny that Come from the army and from see that had no homes that would work for little or nothing but there vitels that I Could not find any Employment, so stays in Boston till the seventeenth; in the meenwhile one Day after I had ben Inquiring and had ben on bord severel of there Vesels but could git into no bisnes neither by see nor Land,

“The 16th. I Com Down by the markett and sits Down all alone, allmost Descureged, and begun to think over how that I had ben in the army, what ill success I had met with there and all so how I was ronged by them I worked for at home, and lost all last winter, and now that I could not get into any besness and no home, which you may well think how I felt; but then Come into my mind that there ware thousands in wors sircumstances then I was, and having food and rament [I ought to] be Content, and that I had nothing to reflect on myself, and I [resolved] to do my endever and leave the avent to Provedance, and after that I felt as contented as need to be.”65

With this quaint narrative of the troubles that fell to the lot of the Revolutionary veteran and the consolations that were his also, this record of the private soldier closes. He was a humble instrument in a great cause; he profited by an opportunity that does not come in every generation. Whether France or Washington or the patriot army contributed most to bring about the peace of Paris in 1783 is of little moment. France and Washington long ago had their due; it has been the purpose of these pages to give the private soldier under Washington whatever share in the victory was his by right of the danger, privation, and toil that he endured.


  1. Parmenter’s Pelham, Massachusetts, p. 129.
  2. See Franklin’s Works (Bigelow), vol. 4, p. 246.
  3. The term “lobsters” is said to have been applied in 1643 to cuirassiers on account of their bright armor (Notes and Queries, September 24, 1859, p. 252); later it was perhaps suggested by the color of the British coats (ibid., April 8, 1876, p. 286; October 6, 1900, p. 766; December 29, 1900, p. 516).
  4. Military Journals of Two Private Soldiers, pp. 57, 65, 80, etc. This interpretation is given by the editor of the diary. Mr. Albert Matthews has called my attention to the following phrase in Moore’s Diary, vol. I, p. 350: “We intend to push on after the long-faces in a few days.” This seems to refer to the American troops, and possibly the words had a still more specific meaning.
  5. Military Journals of Two Private Soldiers, pp. 82.
  6. E. Fisher’s Journal, p. 17.
  7. David How’s Diary, p. 26.
  8. Ibid., p. 41.
  9. American Archives V., vol. 3, col. 12 31.
  10. American Archives V., vol. 3, col. 602.
  11. Life of Joseph Reed, vol. 2 (1847), pp. 262-266.
  12. Aaron Wright’s Revolutionary Journal; in Historical Magazine, July, 1862, p. 210.
  13. Military journals of Two Private Soldiers, p. 57.
  14. Colonel Hutchinson’s Orderly Book, p. 15.
  15. Dr. E. Elmer’s journal; in New Jersey Historical Society Proceedings, Vol. 2 (1846), p. 48.
  16. Military Journals of Two Private Soldiers, p. 78.
  17. D. How’s Diary, p. 5.
  18. Military Journals, p. 70.
  19. Colonel William Henshaw’s Orderly Book, p. 59.
  20. Jonathan Burton’s Orderly Book, p. 13.
  21. Jonathan Burton’s Orderly Book, p. 36.
  22. David How’s Diary, p. 12.
  23. Military Journals of Two Private Soldiers, p. 76.
  24. Rev. A. R. Robbins’s Journal, p. 10.
  25. Amos Farnsworth’s Diary; in Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, January, 1898, p. 85.
  26. J. Durand’s New Materials, p. 25; American Archives V., vol. 3, col. 1395.
  27. A. Lewis’s Orderly Book, p. 6; also Military Journals of Two Private Soldiers, p. 54.
  28. Johnson’s Orderly Book, p. 49, note.
  29. T. Anburey’s Travels, vol. I, p. 418.
  30. A. Farnsworth’s Diary; in Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, January, 1898, p. 87.
  31. E. G. Schaukirk’s Diary; in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 10, p. 431 .
  32. E. Hitchcock’s Diary; in Rhode Island Historical Society Publications, January, 1900, p. 224.
  33. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 3, p. 398.
  34. Ibid., vol. 4, p. 392.
  35. Percy’s Letters; in Boston Public Library Bulletin, January, 1892, pp. 325, 326.
  36. American Archives V., vol. 3, col. 1306. Franklin in 1769 wrote a vigorous defence of the provincial militia in answer to a taunting article in No. 310 of the London Chronicle. See his Works, edited by Bigelow, vol. 4, p. 247.
  37. American Archives V., vol. I, col. 103.
  38. J. Durand’s New Materials, p. 25.
  39. American Archives V., vol. 3, col. 1176 (year 1776).
  40. Blanchard’s Journal, p. 115.
  41. J. Thacher’s Military Journal, p. 154.
  42. A. Lewis’s Orderly Book, pp. 8, 27.
  43. Jonathan Burton’s Orderly Book, p. 17.
  44. Captain Barnard Elliott’s Diary; in Charleston Year Book, 1889, p. 188.
  45. Nathan Davis’s History; in Historical Magazine, April, 1868, p. 205.
  46. Ibid., p. 209.
  47. Military Journals of Two Private Soldiers, p. 66.
  48. D. McCurtin’s Journal; in T. Balch’s Papers (1857). p. 33.
  49. Ibid., p. 17.
  50. A. Farnsworth’s Diary; in Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, January, 1898, pp. 84, 88.
  51. Stuart’s Trumbull (1859), p. 224.
  52. Captain Nathan Hale attributed the departure of volunteers to a scarcity of provisions. In any case the men took affairs into their own hands. Ibid., p. 223.
  53. Mitchel Sewall’s ode, the only one mentioned, as far as I have noticed, in the diaries here cited as actually sung by the rank and file of the army.
  54. Dr. A. Waldo’s Diary; in Historical Magazine, May, 1861, p. 131.
  55. Dr. Benjamin Rush, in Massachusetts Magazine for 1791, pp. 284, 360.
  56. Knox’s Report; in American State Papers, Military Affairs, vol. I, p. 14.
  57. Explained in Justin Winsor’s paper; in Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, January, 1886, p. 204. For an example of the misleading tables see Harper’s Book of Facts (New York, 1895), under “Army,” p. 47.
  58. Thirteenth Congress, First Session; Executive reports, letter from Secretary of War. Reprinted in Minnesota Historical Society Collections.
  59. Sixteenth Congress, First Session, House Documents, vol. 4, No. 55. See also Twenty-first Congress, Second Session, House Documents, Vol. 2, No. 31, for list of those rejected, with reasons; and vol. 3, No. 86, for an invalid pension roll.
  60. Twenty-third Congress, First Session, Senate Documents, vols. 12, 13, 14.
  61. Harper’s Book of Facts (1895), pp. 621, 682. Downing’s kindly face, framed in snow-white hair, serves as a frontispiece for Mr. Hillard’s book.
  62. World Almanac, 1900, p. 165.
  63. Appended to Secretary of Interior’s Report: Thirty-fifth Congress, First Session, Senate Documents, vol. 2.
  64. World Almanac for 1900, p. 164.
  65. Elijah Fisher’s Journal, pp. 23, 24. Punctuation added.

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