Supply of Ordnance and Ordnance Stores
The Department of the Commissary General of Military Stores never had responsibility for all facets of ordnance supply. It was primarily concerned with repair operations and the production of many ordnance items. Such procurement authority as the Commissary General had was limited to the purchase of supplies needed in the department's operations. Even this procurement, however, did not include all such supplies. Powder, which the department used in preparing fixed ammunition and making cartridges, was procured and deposited in its magazines by other agencies of the Continental Congress. Accouterments which it produced were made from leather furnished by the Hide Department. On the other hand, the Commissary General, at the direction of the Board of War, contracted late in the war for shot and shells, particularly in 1780 and 1781. Procurement of the major items of ordnance supply-powder, arms, and cannon-and their distribution to the Continental Army never became functions of the Department of the Commissary General of Military Stores. Procurement authority was never centralized in any one agency during the war, and the failure early in the war to provide a centralized control of distribution promoted confusion.
Long before the Second Continental Congress assumed responsibility for the support of the Continental Army, colonial governments had looked to foreign markets for the procurement of essential military supplies. When the First Continental Congress met in September 1774, few colonists anticipated open warfare. Yet patriots, acting in provincial congresses and conventions, initiated preparatory measures. Militia drilled more conscientiously, and committees of safety collected guns and ammunition at safe deposit points. The Massachusetts Provincial Congress in October of that year went so far as to appropriate funds to purchase powder, shot and shells, flints, fieldpieces, mortars, muskets, and bayonets.1
The British government had good reason to suspect that the colonists were carrying on an illicit trade in gunpowder and other military stores with Holland through the island of St. Eustatius in the West Indies. Determined to prevent the accumulation of such stocks, it enacted a law prohibiting the importation of saltpeter, gunpowder, or arms into the colonies and made the
1. Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 1:841-44 (24-26 Oct 74).
law applicable also to coastwise trade.2 The effect was to trigger even greater preparatory activity on the part of the patriots. In Rhode Island patriots seized and carried to Providence the powder, cannon, and other military stores from the fort at Newport. At Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a group of 400 men proceeded to Fort William and Mary and forcibly took possession of it, carrying off 100 barrels of powder as well as muskets and cannon.3 On 20 March of the following year, the States General, the governing body of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, issued a proclamation forbidding, under heavy penalty, the exportation of warlike stores, except by special license, from any Dutch harbor. To obtain a special license, the exporter had to take an oath that the goods being shipped were not destined for British colonies. The effectiveness of this proclamation, however, was questionable, and trade continued to flourish at St. Eustatius.4
The individual colonies in this period took such preparatory measures as each judged necessary. After the war began, the state authorities and the Continental Congress competed with each other in foreign markets to purchase the arms, cannon, powder, and other military stores needed for the country’s defense. The states purchased to arm and equip their militia; the Continental Congress procured for the support of the Continental Army and Navy.
Shortly after the Second Continental Congress met, it realized that to support the Continental Army it would have to import ordnance and ordnance stores. On 18 September 1775 it authorized the Secret Committee to import 500 tons of gunpowder. If that amount could not be obtained, the committee was to make up any deficiency with saltpeter and sulphur. Congress also empowered the Secret Committee to procure forty brass 6-pounder fieldpieces, 20,000 musket locks, and 10,000 stand of good arms, drawing upon the Continental treasury for funds to pay for the contracts.5 The necessity of obtaining munitions subsequently led Congress to waive its nonexportation agreements. It thereupon authorized the Secret Committee to export to the non-British West Indies, on behalf of the Continental Congress, as much produce-except cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry-as was necessary to pay for the arms, ammunition, sulphur, and saltpeter imported.6 Before the end
2. Ibid., 4th ser., 1:480 (Earl of Dartmouth to Lt Gov Cadwallader Colden, 10 Sep 74); 881 (Order in Council, 19 Oct 74).
3. Ibid., 4th ser., 1: 1041 -42 (Gov John Wentworth to Gov Gage, 14 and 16 Dec 74); 1080 (Thomas Cushing to Josiah Quincy, Jr.).
4. For the role that the Dutch West Indies played in supporting the American Revolution, see J. Franklin Jameson, "St. Eustatius in the American Revolution." American Historical Review 8 (1903): 683-708.
5. JCC, 2:253-54.
6. Ibid., 3:336 (8 Nov 75).
of the year the Secret Committee reported the necessity of procuring 20,000 stand of arms, 300 tons of lead, 1 million flints, 1,500 boxes of tin and assorted hardware, and 500 sheets of assorted copper for the support of the Continental Army. Congress directed the committee to import these supplies as soon as possible.7 These orders were but the first of many to the Secret Committee.
In the meantime, on 13 December 1775 Robert Morris succeeded Thomas Willing, his business partner, as a member of the Secret Committee and became its chairman. Utilizing his wide mercantile contacts and operating through agents in Europe and in the West Indies-at Martinique, Cape Francois in Santo Domingo, and St. Eustatius-Morris obtained considerable supplies from Europe which moved through the islands destined for the use of the Continental Army and Navy. The French, while preserving the form of neutrality, were showing the same favors at Martinique to the rebelling American colonies as the Dutch were at St. Eustatius. In the spring of 1776, Congress empowered the Secret Committee to order and pay for the arming and manning of any vessels employed abroad in importing cargoes for the government. When such armed vessels arrived at American ports, the committee received all the arms, ammunition, and stores.8 One vessel that the Secret Committee had fitted out, for example, arrived from Marseilles in the summer of 1776 bringing 1,000 muskets, about 10 tons of powder, 40 tons of lead, and other stores. Before the end of the year the Andrew Doria, a brigantine sent out by the committee, brought in 496 muskets, 326 pairs of pistols, 200 half barrels of powder, and 14,101 pounds of lead, among other supplies.9
Since the early trade operations with the West Indies were conducted clandestinely, they cannot be traced in detail. However, evidence of the trade can be found in actions taken by the Continental Congress. For example, early in 1776 a Frenchman, Pierre de Fargue, arrived with a cargo of ammunition. He requested, and Congress granted, permission to export produce to, Martinique in return for the cargo he had brought. Additional cargoes of sulphur, saltpeter, flints, lead, powder, muskets, and other stores arrived at American ports in 1776.10 This importation of supplies, so essential to the Continental forces, proved most advantageous to Robert Morris and many other merchants engaged in it.11 That the trade was highly
7. Ibid., 3:453 (23 Dec 75); 4:24-25 (3 Jan 76).
8. Ibid., 4:290 (17 Apr 76).
9. Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 1:758-59 (Josiah Bartlett to John Langdon, 5 Aug 76); 3:1373-74 (Robert Morris to Washington, 23 Dec 76).
10. (1) Burnett, Letters, 1:341 (Richard Smith Diary, 7 Feb 76). (2) JCC, 4:117, 119-20 (7 and 8 Feb 76). See also 6:866, 878 - 79, 890, 896, 952 - 53 (11, 15, 2 1, and 22 Oct; 15 Nov 76).
11. (1) For a discussion of the activities of Robert Morris and his mercantile associates, see East, Business Enterprise in the American Revolutionary Era, pp. 126 ff. (2) For a biography of one of his agents, see Robert C. Alberts, The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1752-1804 (New York, 1969).
lucrative is indicated by a report in April 1776 that 120-percent profits could be made on gunpowder at St. Eustatius. So attractive, in fact, were the profits that large numbers of British merchants were enticed into providing supplies for their country's enemies.12
A second committee of Congress, the Committee of Secret Correspondence, was soon deeply involved in obtaining foreign aid for the colonies. On 3 March 1776 it sent Silas Deane to France "in the character of a merchant" to obtain a supply of clothing and arms for 25,000 men as well as ammunition and 100 brass fieldpieces.13 Long before that date, however, the Comte de Vergennes, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, had been observing with interest Great Britain's troubles with its American colonies. By the summer of 1775 he had begun to think that those difficulties might be used as a means to enhance French prestige and power. As he formulated a policy of secret assistance to the American colonies, Vergennes was encouraged by information sent from England by a French political agent, Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais, a dramatist and courtier.14 The latter had met in London with Arthur Lee, then a secret agent of the Committee of Secret Correspondence. Lee had instructions to furnish the committee information relative to the disposition of foreign powers toward the American colonies, and he was persuasive in pleading for French aid to the colonies.15
Vergennes’ policy of secret assistance was accepted by Louis XVI, who on 2 May 1776 directed that Beaumarchais be furnished with one million livres to be used in providing secret military supplies to the rebelling colonies under the fiction of lawful commerce. Spain contributed a similar amount to the plan. America's first agent in France, Silas Deane, reached Paris on 7 July 1776 with specific instructions to purchase military stores on liberal credit terms payable in American produce. By that time Beaumarchais had received the French and Spanish money, and the idea of establishing the fictitious Roderique Hortalez and Company to carry on the trade had been conceived. Beaumarchais had informed Arthur Lee of these developments, and the Committee of Secret Correspondence then received word through Thomas Story that the French Court would not enter into a war with England but would assist the Americans by sending, in the fall of 1776, arms and
12. (1) Jameson, "St. Eustatius in the American Revolution," American Historical Review, 8:688. (2) Fortescue, A History of the British Army, 3:260.
13. Francis Wharton, ed., Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence of the United States, 6 vols. (Washington, 1889), 2:78-80 (instructions to Deane).
14. (1) Beaumarchais had considerable influence in the formulation of this policy. See John J. Meng, "A Footnote to Secret Aid in the American Revolution," American Historical Review 43 (1938): 791-95. (2) See also Samuel F. Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution (1935; Indiana Univ Press ed., Bloomington, 1967), pp. 20-28.
15. For different evaluations of Lee's role, see (1) Louis be Lomenie, Beaumarchais and His Times, 4 vols. (London, 1856), 3:132 ff. (2) Bution J. Hendrick, The Lees of Virginia (New York, 1935), pp. 225 ff.
ammunition worth 200,000 pounds sterling from Holland to St. Eustatius, Martinique, or Cape Francois. These supplies would be delivered to properly authorized persons who applied to the governors or commandants of those places, inquiring for M. Hortalez.16
Before Story made his report, Deane and Beaumarchais had come to terms, and the latter began obtaining supplies. Most came directly to him from French arsenals. Despite delays in communications-under the most favorable conditions it took two months for instructions from Congress to reach Europe-and lack of remittances by the Committee of Secret Correspondence, Deane was able to report early in December 1776 that he was dispatching a vessel carrying 200 brass cannon, 30 mortars, 30,000 fusils, 200 tons of gunpowder, and various other ordnance stores, as well as 4,000 tents and enough clothing for 30,000 men.17 Although there was further delay because the ship, the Amphitrite, returned to port after it had sailed, it arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in time to provide supplies for the 1777 campaign, which for the Northern Army culminated in the victory at Saratoga. The Mercury of Nantes also arrived, with a cargo of arms, powder, flints, and woolens.18
By the beginning of March 1777 Beaumarchais had ten Hortalez and Company vessels sailing to America loaded with military supplies. Deane had agreed to provide American ships for carrying the cargoes, but when they did not arrive in time, Beaumarchais himself had arranged to provide the ships.19 Beaumarchais supplied on a credit basis military stores worth 5 million livres, considerably more than the 2 million granted by France and Spain. After the war he claimed he was due 3,600,000 livres, the extra 600,000 being the amount he had advanced to ships’ officers and crews.20 On the basis of his conversations with Beaumarchais, Lee maintained that the supplies furnished had been a gift from the French Court. Whatever the understanding between the two men-and it still remains unclear-Congress did sign a contract that called for payment, as Samuel F. Bemis has pointed out. Its repudiation resulted from Lee’s efforts to convince Congress that Beaumarchais had no right to charge for the supplies that had been given to
16. Burnett, Letters, 2:110-11 (Committee of Secret Correspondence statement, 1 Oct 76). Since Robert Morris was a member of all committees engaged in importing supplies, the committee agreed it could keep this development secret from Congress to prevent the supplies from being intercepted by the country's enemies. Congress, it felt, had too many members to keep secrets.
17. Wharton, Revolutionary Diplomatic Correspondence, 2:212 (Deane to Jay, 3 Dec 76).
18. (1) JCC 7:211-12 (31 Mar 77). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:7- 8 (to Pres of Cong, 3 May 77).
19. Elizabeth S. Kite, Beaumarchais and the War of Independence, 2 vols. (Boston, 1918), 2:124, 153.
20. See Bemis, Diplomacy of the American Revolution, p. 37n.
him, and that the commercial contract had been intended only to hide French violations of neutrality.21
Spain’s gift of one million livres was its total contribution to the joint secret operations with France, but Spain provided other assistance to the colonies. When George Gibson arrived at New Orleans in September 1776 seeking Spanish assistance, he raised the idea of America’s capturing Pensacola and delivering it to Spain. The Spanish Court welcomed the suggestion. In the first two months of 1777 military supplies were shipped from Spain to New Orleans and surplus powder was transferred from Mexico.22
Following the victory of the Americans at Saratoga in the fall of 1777, France entered into an alliance with the United States. Military supplies could now be openly shipped and convoyed by the French Navy. Through Benjamin Franklin's efforts, considerable funds became available, and military stores continued to come to the United States. It has long been acknowledged that without this foreign aid the colonists could not have won their independence. Until French supplies began to arrive in 1777, however, the rebelling Americans had been forced to rely on their own efforts to support the war. Whether for such major articles of war as cannon, muskets, or gunpowder, or for the numerous other ordnance stores required in a campaign, the colonists in 1775 had to rely on the very limited capacity of domestic production. To sustain the Continental Army during the first two campaigns of the war, the colonists managed to supplement such production with supplies imported by congressional committees and state authorities, obtained and sold by private merchants, and seized and disposed of by privateers.
Scarcity of Powder
After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the supply of powder, that most essential military store, was at once seen as inadequate.23 Massachusetts Bay's stock of available gunpowder late in April 1775 totaled only 82 half barrels. To build up magazines, its Committee of Safety called upon the various towns of the colony to send 68 ¼ barrels of powder. So acute did the shortage become that Maj. Gen. Artemas Ward, commanding the Massachusetts Bay forces, feared that Massachusetts would "barely for want of the means of defence, fall at last a prey to our enemies."24
21. (1) Charles J. Stille, "Beaumarchais and the Lost Million," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 11 (1887): 1-36. (2) Kite, Beaumarchais and the War of Independence, 2:184 ff. (3) His heirs eventually, in 1835, received 800,000 francs. Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution, p. 39.
22. For a summary of French and Spanish loans and subsidies, see ibid., p. 93.
23. Stephenson states that 80,000 pounds of powder were on hand when the conflict began. Orlando W. Stephenson. "The Supply of Gunpowder in 1776," American Historical Review 30 (1925): 273.
24. Force, Am. Arch., 4th set., 2:906 (Ward et al. to Cong, 4 Jun 75).
Although the Continental Congress had not by formal vote accepted responsibility for the forces gathered at Cambridge, nonetheless by 3 June it had appointed a committee to purchase gunpowder for that army. The committee was to borrow the sum of 6,000 pounds for the purpose, Congress guaranteeing repayment of the sum with interest. In response to letters not only from Massachusetts but also from Ticonderoga and Crown Point, Congress a week later called on the other New England colonies and the interior towns of Massachusetts to furnish the troops before Boston with as much powder out of their stocks as they could spare.25 In responding to this emergency, Governor Jonathan Trumbull wrote that after receiving Congress’ letter, Connecticut, which had already sent 50 barrels of powder, had shipped 10 more, all that it could supply. New York had contributed 655 pounds of powder and the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety had sent 90 quarter casks. Subsequently, the delegates of South Carolina in Congress dispatched a vessel from Philadelphia and called upon the secret committee at Charleston to purchase all the powder that could be bought in that town and to return the vessel with the powder as soon as possible, together with as much powder as could be spared from the public stock. On 21 July 1775 that committee shipped 5,000 pounds of powder.26
These supplies helped, but they were used with reckless abandon. When Washington arrived at Cambridge, he wrote that he would have to "re-echo the former complaints." The little supply of powder on hand had to be reserved for small arms and managed with utmost frugality; he was so destitute of powder, he advised the President of the Continental Congress, that the artillery would be of little use without the delivery of a large supply. Had he appreciated the actual status of his army's powder supply, his appeal might have been frantic. Following his arrival, the Massachusetts Committee of Supplies had submitted a return showing 485 quarter casks of powder, which Washington assumed to be the amount on hand. Weeks later he learned the true state of affairs. Through a misunderstanding the return had included all the powder Massachusetts had ever received, most of which already had been used. Actually, only 38 barrels were on hand early in August; there was not enough powder to furnish a half pound per man. "The General was so Struck that he did not utter a word for half an hour." So wrote Brig. Gen. John Sullivan to the New Hampshire Committee of Safety, appealing for an immediate supply of at least 20 barrels of powder.27
25. (1) JCC, 2:79, 85-86 (3 and 10 Jun 75). (2) Burnett, Letters, 1: 120 (Pres of Cong to Gov Trumbull, 10 Jun 75).
26. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 2:1035-36 (Trumbull to Cong, 20 Jun 75). (2) Burnett, Letters, 1: 145, 149 (John Adams to James Warren, 27 Jun 75). (3) Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution (New York, 190 1), pp. 17 - 21.
27. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 3:325 (to Pres of Cong, 10 Jul 75). (2) John Sullivan, Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, ed. Otis G. Hammond, 3 vols. (Concord, N.H., 1930-39), 1:72-73 (5 Aug 75).
Washington depended for his powder on appeals to the provincial congresses for what could be spared from their stocks on hand, on purchases of supplies from private traders, and on supplies captured by armed schooners. Despite the receipt of eleven tons of powder and the fact that no general action, had as yet occurred, the main Continental army in January 1776 still did not have a sufficient supply of powder on hand. Washington attributed the army’s shortage to the damage the powder had sustained from heavy rain when the troops were sheltered in bad tentage.
There were other demands than those of his troops upon Washington's small stock of gunpowder. Having discovered that his force was not "likely to do much in the Land way," Washington in October 1775 had equipped two armed vessels-the Lynch and the Franklin-and had ordered their captains to intercept British supply ships. To encourage the officers and men, he directed that they receive one-third of the value of any prizes taken. "Washington's fleet," as the armed vessels are usually known, gave good service until Congress established a naval force.28 Equipping the armed vessels, however, meant that they had to be supplied with powder. Some powder also had to be given to the seaport towns for their defense. In addition, the powder shortage was increased by the fact that troops leaving after the expiration of their enlistment carried powder home despite efforts to prevent the practice.
The King’s troops, Washington explained, never had less than 60 rounds per man in their possession. To supply a proposed 20,000-man army with the same amount of ammunition per soldier would require 400 barrels of powder. Given the small amount of powder on hand and faced with the dire prospect that an accident could leave the army destitute, Washington allowed each man no more than 12 or 15 rounds.29 His difficulties were increased by the arrival of militia with little or no powder.
Washington called a council of war on 16 February 1776 to plan an attack on Boston. Cold weather had frozen over the harbor, thus affording "a less dangerous approach to the Town, than through the Lines or by Water." The general officers, however, thought the plan too hazardous, for there was an insufficiency both of men (the militia had not yet arrived) and of powder. These were but two of the factors preventing an attack on Boston. Washington lamented the loss of a golden opportunity. Prudence dictated that he conceal his problems from the enemy, but he feared his friends in consequence did not realize his distress and thus failed to send him supplies that they could spare. "I am so restrained in all my Military movements," he wrote Governor Trumbull, "that it is impossible to undertake anything effectual." After
28. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 4:6-7 (instructions, 4 Oct 75); 22-25 (to Pres of Cong, 12 Oct 75); 33-34 (to Capt Nicholson Broughton, 16 Oct 75); 149 (to Col Benedict Arnold, 5 Dec 75).
29. Ibid., 4:288-89 (to Pres of Cong, 30 Jan 76).
furnishing the militia with about 50 barrels of powder, increasing the rounds in the hands of the other troops to 24 per man, and providing a few rounds of cannon cartridges, he had, in mid-February, no more than 100 barrels of powder on hand. Governor Trumbull came to his aid with two tons of powder before the end of the month, and on 4 March 1776 Congress directed the Secret Committee to send "with all possible expedition" 10 tons of powder to Cambridge.30 With these developments and with the arrival of heavy cannon (brought by Col. Henry Knox from Ticonderoga in January but temporarily left at Framingham, Massachusetts), Washington was able to seize Dorchester Heights early in March and pose a threat to the British in Boston. Until then, he had been "obliged to submit to all the Insults of the Enemy's Cannon for want of Powder, keeping what little we had for Pistol distance." When the British finally evacuated Boston, he took satisfaction in his army’s achievement.
We have maintain'd our Ground against the Enemy, under the above want of Powder, and we have disbanded one Army and recruited another, within Musket Shot of Two and Twenty Regiments, the Flower of the British Army, when our strength have been, little if any, superior to theirs; and, at last, have beat them, in a shameful and precipitate manner out of a place the strongest by Nature on this Continent, and strengthened and fortified in the best manner and at an enormous Expence.31
Manufacture of Powder
The scarcity of powder caused both the colonial assemblies and the Continental Congress to attempt to obtain a supply through manufacture as well as through importation. They tried to stimulate the production of saltpeter, the chief ingredient of powder, and they encouraged both the repair of old powder mills that had fallen into ruin since the French and Indian War and the erection of new mills. The Committee of Philadelphia, for example, undertook to erect a "saltpetre Manufactory" in July 1775, and the Rhode Island Assembly in August offered a bounty of 3 shillings a pound on every pound of saltpeter made in the colony during the next year.32 In June 1775 the Continental Congress called for the collection of all saltpeter and brimstone in the colonies and for their manufacture into gunpowder as soon as possible. It also requested New York to put its powder mills into operation, and it appointed a committee to devise ways and means for manufacturing saltpeter
30. (1) Ibid., 4:338-39, 343 (to Trumbull, 19 and 22 Feb 76). (2) Washington Papers, reel 35, set. 4 (Trumbull to Washington, 16 Feb 76). (3) JCC, 4:183.
31. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 4:446 (to John Augustine Washington, 31 Mar 76).
32. (1) Burnett, Letters, 1:346 (Richard Smith Diary, 12 Feb 76). 2. Force, Am. Arch., 4th set., 2:1533 (Committee of Philadelphia, 3 Jul 75); 3:232 (R.I. Assembly, _ Aug 75).
in the colonies. Robert Livingston, having obtained saltpeter at Philadelphia, set his powder mill to work in New York.33
Some seven weeks later the Continental Congress again recommended that the colonies undertake the production of saltpeter. This time it specifically called the attention of the tobacco colonies to the fact that the surface of the earth in tobacco warehouses and their yards was strongly impregnated with nitrate, and it requested them to erect saltpeter factories on the rivers near such warehouses. It also recommended that the colonial assemblies and conventions buy up, on the account of the United Colonies, all good and merchantable saltpeter produced until 1 October 1776 at half a dollar a pound. To further stimulate saltpeter production, the Continental Congress even printed and distributed a pamphlet on the methods of making saitpeter.34 In February 1776 it recommended that the colonial governments set up public works to manufacture saltpeter and erect powder mills. It appointed a committee of one member from each colony to consider ways and means of encouraging the manufacture of saltpeter and gunpowder, and to keep Congress informed of progress being made in all the colonies in the manufacture of these products.35
Almost all the saltpeter and powder manufactured in the colonies was produced as a result of support given by the colonial governments. Nearly all of it was produced early in the war when Revolutionary enthusiasm was high, "hard money" was in circulation, and the price of labor and materials was not yet inflated. A total of some 115,000 pounds of gunpowder was manufactured from saltpeter produced in the colonies by the fall of 1777; the total from imported saltpeter was 698,245 pounds. Despite these efforts, most of the powder used during the first two and a half years of the war had to be imported. According to Orlando W. Stephen son, the imported supply amounted to 90 percent of the powder available for carrying on the war during that period. Most of it came from the West Indies, where large quantities were available. Between 6 and 14 May 1776, for example, 14 ships arrived at Martinique bringing 100,000 hundredweight of gunpowder. In mid-July, 12 more ships were expected, each carrying 10,000 or 12,000 hundredweight of powder.36
At the same time, complaints about the gunpowder manufactured in America led Congress to use inspectors. They examined every cask of powder manufactured or purchased for the United States to determine its quality. Congress allowed the inspector one-eighth of a dollar for every
33. (1) Ibid., 4th set., 2:1106 (Livingston to Pres of N.Y. Prov Cong, 26 Jun 75). (2) JCC, 2:85-86 (10 Jun 75).
34. Ibid., 2:218-19 (28 Jul 75).
35. Ibid., 4:170-71 (23 Feb 76).
36. (1) Stephenson, "The Supply of Gunpowder in 1776," American Historical Review, 30:276-77. (2) Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 1:265-66 (Capt Robert Parker to N.H. Committee of Safety, 13 Jul 76).
hundredweight of powder he examined. No powder was to be received at a magazine or delivered from a powder mill unless approved by an inspector as to quickness in firing, strength, dryness, and other qualities. He marked each approved cask with the letters U.S.A. and with other marks to distinguish the kind of powder. Every maker of powder also identified his cask with the first letters of his name. Congress also recommended that the state legislatures appoint inspectors of powder. It then elected Robert Towers inspector of gunpowder at Philadelphia. In addition, it empowered the Continental Agents to inspect, or appoint persons to inspect, gunpowder manufactured, purchased, or imported in the states where they resided, except in those states where Congress had appointed an inspector.37
Production of powder tended to dwindle in the later years of the war despite the Board of War's efforts to stimulate it. The board made a contract with Nicholas and Mark Fouquet, who came to America with Philippe Du Coudray in 1777. For two years they instructed manufacturers in the art of powder making, wrote treatises on saltpeter and powder (which the Board of War published), and constructed models of powder mills.38 The materials for powder production became less available as British patrols tightened operations along the coast and in the West Indies. Thus when Washington sought to obtain powder in Massachusetts in the summer of 1780, that state, while willing to help, could furnish him only 10 tons of powder. There were three powder mills capable of producing an average of 2 tons a week, but they had enough materials on hand to manufacture a total of no more than about 30 tons. At the same time, production in Connecticut was halted for lack of sulphur, though the state apparently had a considerable quantity of saltpeter on hand. To obtain the needed powder, Washington proposed to supply sulphur from Springfield, Massachusetts, where the other ingredients for making powder were lacking. He suggested that Connecticut manufacture the powder for his forces in exchange for a suitable compensation.39 Even more than in the early years of the war, the Continental Army was dependent upon the importation of powder to meet its needs.
Continuing Scarcity of Powder
Despite the scarcity of powder, soldiers were often as wasteful of it as they had been in 1775. Washington repeatedly issued orders to curb this waste. The troops had the habit of frequently discharging their guns to clean and keep them in order. This practice caused so great a waste of ammunition (powder, ball, and wadding) that in the summer of 1777 Washington ordered
37. JCC, 5:425, 713- 14, 729 (7 Jun, 28 and 31 Aug 76).
38. Ibid., 15:1164-65 (12 Oct 79).
39. (1) Washington Papers, reel 68, ser. 4 (Mass. Council to Washington, 2 Jul 80). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 19:111 - 12 (to Gov Trumbull, 3 Jul 80).
that no musket was to be loaded "until we are close to the enemy, and there is a moral certainty of engaging them."40 In the spring of the following year he directed that when any noncommissioned officer or private was detected discharging his gun or otherwise wasting his ammunition, he was to receive thirty-nine lashes on his bare back by order of the first commissioned officer before whom he was brought. More than two years later Washington was again cautioning against the waste of ammunition, though he attributed the revival of the practice of firing guns in the camp and its vicinity to the arrival of new levies.41
Washington was justifiably concerned about any waste of powder. His magazines were nearly empty in the summer of 1779. "We have scarcely a sufficiency for the ordinary demands of the service," he informed the Board of War, "and should be utterly unable to undertake any enterprise which might require more than common expenditure however necessary it might be, or however other circumstances might invite it."42 He had in mind the possibility of a cooperative effort with Admiral d’Estaing against the British. At the same time he was concerned about the defense of West Point. The Board of War was expecting a supply of powder, and, in fact, a Pennsylvania privateer sent out by the Marine Committee brought some from the West Indies, but its cargo was far less than the 1,000 barrels the board had anticipated. This powder, Washington felt, would "answer our present purposes," but, still hopeful of a joint effort with d’Estaing, he also requested a loan of powder from Massachusetts and Connecticut. When the joint effort failed to materialize, Washington directed the Massachusetts Council to hold in Boston the 100 barrels of powder that it had proposed sending him. The Board of War took action to stop the forwarding of loans of powder from Virginia and Maryland.43
Prospects were no better the following year. Again hopeful of a cooperative effort with the French, Washington was hard-pressed for powder. The quantity on hand together with what he expected from the French fleet would amount to no more than one-third of the quantity that would be required for a decisive operation. Once more he appealed to the states for assistance. The failure of the frigate Alliance to arrive from France with arms and powder increased the distress of Washington’s army and ensured the continuance of the stalemate in the north.44
40. Ibid., 8:423 (60, 17 Jul 77).
41. Ibid., 11:249 (GO, 11 Apr 78); 12:448 (00, 14 Sep 78); 19:438-39 (25 Aug 80).
42. Ibid., 16:184 (27 Aug 79).
43. Ibid., 16:4-5 (to Pres of Cong, 29 Jul 79); 284, 304 (to Bd of War, 14 and 18 Sep 79); 426-27 (to Jeremiah Powell, 7 Oct 79); 17:66 (to same, 3 Nov 79); 136 (to Bd of War, 19 Nov 79).
44. (1) Ibid., 19:116-17 (to Pres Meshech Weare, 4 Jul 80); 210 (to Mass. Council, 19 Jul 80); 227-28 (to Gov Trumbull, 22 Jul 80). (2) Washington Papers. reel 16, ser. 4 (Knox to Washington, 23 May 80).
A report of the Board of War in November 1780 showed only too clearly the scarcity of powder. General Knox had prepared an estimate of ordnance needs for the cooperative campaign that Washington had hoped to launch against New York in the summer of 1780. His estimate of powder needed for siege operations was 7,779 barrels more than what was estimated to be on hand in the Ordnance Department in the fall of that year. The Board of War had applied to France for 5,000 barrels of cannon powder, but even if all of it arrived, there would still be a deficiency, the board noted, of 2,779 barrels for an operation against New York in 1781.45 As the campaign of 1781 approached, Washington was again reduced to appealing for the loan of powder from the states. He assured the governors that he would soon be able to repay the loans when supplies procured in Europe arrived.46 As in the past, the states were willing to assist as much as they were able.
Domestic Production of Arms
However much the Continental Congress came to depend on foreign procurement of arms to equip its troops, initially it had to rely on what was available and could be produced in the colonies. On 4 November 1775 it recommended that the assemblies or conventions of the colonies set their gunsmiths to work manufacturing good firelocks with bayonets. The price was to be fixed by the assembly, convention, or committee of safety in each colony.47 Long before that date, however, these bodies had anticipated the need. A committee of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in December 1774 had recommended the manufacture of firearms in that colony. By way of encouragement, it enacted legislation giving preference in its purchases to arms manufactured in the colony.48 Virginia had enacted legislation establishing a gun factory near Fredericksburg in July 1775. Pennsylvania, too, had made provision for the manufacture of gunlocks in Philadelphia, and early in 1776 it appointed Peter De Haven to superintend the works.49 In Maryland, where a dozen gunsmith shops were located in Baltimore, Frederick, Hagerstown, and elsewhere, a committee had recommended that, in lieu of establishing a gun factory, contracts be made with the various gunsmiths. Each of the 12 shops, the committee reported, could produce 20 muskets a month, including steel rammers and bayonets, for a total of 240 a month.50 Committees of safety generally were active in engaging
46. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 22:113 (to Gov Hancock, 25 Feb 81); 115-16 (to Gov Trumbull, 25 May 81).
47. JCC, 3:322-23.
48. The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, pp. 62, 63 (8 Dec 74); 103 (15 Feb 75).
49. (1) William Waller Henning, comp., The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, 14 vols. (1821; reprinted., Jamestown Foundation, 1969), 9:71-72 (17 Jul 75). (2) Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, 10:506 (6 Mar 76).
50. Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 3:130-31 (committee report, 2 Aug 75).
gunsmiths as well as blacksmiths to produce muskets. Later Congress itself operated a Continental firearms factory at Lancaster and a gunlock factory at Trenton.51 Prewar expectations of the number of small arms that could be produced in the colonies, however, were much too optimistic. The efforts of gunsmiths and gun factories were helpful, but capacity was limited. Local production soon had to be supplemented by importation. By the fall of 1778 lack of funds led Pennsylvania to propose discontinuing the production of arms at its factory.52
Variety of Arms
Although some rifles were used in the Revolutionary War, the weapon most soldiers used was the musket. Congress preferred it to the rifle because it was more easily kept in order, could be fired more rapidly, and could accommodate a bayonet. Relatively few men were skilled in the use of the rifle. Muskets, moreover, were more easily and readily manufactured by colonial gunsmiths, few of whom were capable of producing rifles.53 Early in the war most of the guns in use were Brown Bess muskets, the principal small arm of the British Army. Many had been acquired by colonial assemblies and issued to their militia. Others were owned by individual inhabitants, and some had seen use in earlier colonial wars. Not a few were acquired when British supply ships were captured when the war began by vessels armed by Washington’s orders. When the states and the Continental Congress initiated procurement abroad, foreign muskets, purchased from the Dutch, Spanish, and French in Europe and in the West Indies, were placed in the hands of the troops. Arms obtained through Beaumarchais came from the French royal arsenals and armories. While these imports included varying kinds of muskets produced over the years, the bulk were the model 1763 musket, usually known as the Charleville Musket.54
Obviously, there was no uniformity of weapons in the hands of the troops, but the need was urgent, and anything that would shoot was purchased, much to the dismay, no doubt, of the users. Reporting to the Maryland Council of Safety the arrival of some weapons in mid-February 1776, Robert Alexander, a member of the Secret Committee, expressed regret about their quality. "If we rely on foreign arms and they are no better than
51. (1) For a list of musket makers who worked for committees of safety, see Charles W. Sawyer, Firearms in American History, 3 vols. (Boston, 1910-20), 1:122-26. (2) Little is known of these Continental factories, but for a reference to them see JCC, 4:384 (23 May 76).
52. RG 11, CC Papers, reel 83, item 69, fols. 555 - 58 (George Bryan to Pres of Cong, 10 Oct 78).
53. Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 2:1247 (Bd of War to Md. Council of Safety, 26 Oct 76).
54. Sawyer, Firearms in American History, 1: 114. The model 1763 was the model the United States adopted when armories at Springfield and Harper's Ferry began to produce arms in 1795-96.
the sample we have, our dependence will be like a broken reed, as I think, if used, they will kill more of our troops than the enemy." Prices were exceedingly high, and "patriotism," he wrote, "sinks before private interest."55
The variety of muskets necessarily posed a problem in the supply of ammunition. Washington was well aware of this difficulty. Though pleased with the effort Virginia was making to manufacture arms, he cautioned that "great care should be taken to make the bores of the same size, that the same Balls may answer, otherwise great disadvantage may arise from a mixture of Cartridges."56 On another occasion, replying to a request for ammunition from Col. James Clinton, he wrote that balls for small arms would he sent "if the Sizes could be ascertained, so as to fit the Musquets exactly." Since this could not be done, Washington ordered that a sufficient quantity of lead be sent to Colonel Clinton so that he could have it cast into balls suitable for his soldiers' muskets. The colonel had to furnish his own bullet molds since Washington had none to send.57 When soldiers made their own cartridges, the problem of fitting them to their muskets did not arise. The situation was different when cartridges were made at laboratories. Late in August 1777, for example, Washington informed Commissary General Benjamin Flower that many of the cartridges he had sent to the main army were too small for its muskets. All of the army’s muskets had French and English bores, he wrote, and the cartridges had to be made to fit those sizes. "If you have any 16ths & 18ths viz: cartridges which require so many to the pound now ready you are to transmit them without a moment’s delay."58 To mitigate the effects of variety in muskets, Washington later directed the officers commanding brigades to report the different calibers and the number of each kind of arm in their brigades. They were then to meet together to see whether by an exchange the arms of each brigade or division could not be all of the same bore.59
Scarcity of Arms
It was the policy of the Continental Congress in 1775 to "hire" arms, which meant encouraging each new soldier to bring his own gun, a practice that had been common in militia service. Having established this policy, Congress then left the task of equipping the troops to the Commander in Chief. More often than not, however, the men arrived at camp without arms. When Washington undertook to form a Continental Army from the forces before
55. Force, Am. Arch., 4th set., 4:1161-62 (16 Feb 76).
56. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 4:26 (to John Augustine Washington, 13 Oct 75).
57. Ibid., 5:232-33 (7 Jul 76). Clinton commanded a brigade, part of Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam's division, which was posted in and about New York City before the battle for Long Island.
58. Washington Papers, reel 43, set. 4 (28 Aug 77).
59. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:363 (GO, 13 Oct 77).
Boston in 1775, he initiated the first of several measures designed to arm his troops. He began by seeking to retain for the use of the new Continental force the muskets that the men hurrying to the defense of their country had brought to Cambridge. He ordered that no soldier upon the expiration of his term of enlistment was to take with him any serviceable gun. If the musket was his private property, it would be appraised, and he would be, given full value for it.60 All arms so taken and appraised were to be delivered into the care of the Commissary of Military Stores. To make doubly sure that the weapons would be retained for Army use, Washington threatened to stop the last two month’s pay due a soldier if he carried away his gun.
Even counting the arms taken in the capture of the British brig Nancy by one of Washington's armed vessels, the stock of muskets for the newly organized army was meager.61 Those brought in by the soldiers themselves proved to be "so very indifferent" that Washington had no confidence in them. On 12 January 1776 he appealed to Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery "to supply [arms] from the King's Stores in Quebec" if he could do so.62 Before that appeal arrived, however, Montgomery lay dead at Quebec. As the new force was brought into being at Cambridge, the lack of arms became acute. To Washington's great surprise, the arms bought from discharged soldiers totaled no more than 1,620. Of these, only 120 remained on hand in January 1776; the rest had been issued to recruits as they came to camp, for the majority possessed no arms on arrival. Washington attributed the shortage of arms to the fact that inspectors had not retained many of the weapons of 1775 because of their poor quality, and to the disobedience of regimental troops who, despite orders to the contrary and threats to stop their pay, had nevertheless carried away their arms by stealth.63
In this crisis Washington warned that the country could not depend on importing arms but had to use its own means. Since Massachusetts had been collecting arms at Watertown as well as manufacturing them, he appealed to its legislature in January to indicate the number he could be certain of obtaining. He sent similar appeals to the neighboring colonies and to the Continental Congress.64 When he received no encouragement from the New England colonies, he sent one or two officers from each regiment into the country to purchase such arms as were needed for their respective regiments. They were to lay out the money furnished to them for muskets-particularly for
60. Ibid., 4:103 (GO, 20 Nov 75). See also 4:152-53 (to Gen Sullivan, 8 Dec 75).
61. The Nancy was captured by the armed schooner Lee and taken to Cape Ann, Mass. it had on board 2,000 muskets, 100,000 flints, more than 30 tons of musket shot, 30,000 round shot, I I mortar beds, and a brass mortar weighing nearly 3,000 pounds. Ibid., 4:128 (to Schuyler, 28 Nov 75).
62. Ibid., 4:231 (12 Jan 76). See also 4:238-39 (to Pres of Cong, 14 Jan 76); 242-43 (to Joseph Reed, 14 Jan 76).
63. Ibid., 4:235-36 (to Mass. legislature, 13 Jan 76).
64. Ibid., 4:235-36, 236-37 (to Mass. and N.H. legislatures, 13 Jan 76); 237-39 (to Pres of Cong, 14 Jan 76); 242-43 (to Joseph Reed, 14 Jan 76); 250 (to Gov Nicholas Cooke, 16 Jan 76).
"King’s Musquets, or Guns as near that quality as can be had"-that had good bayonets, but they were not to refuse a good musket if it lacked a bayonet. Since the General Court of Massachusetts Bay had appointed a committee in each county to purchase arms for the Continental Army, Washington warned his officers to avoid raising prices by competitive bidding against the county purchasers.65 He obtained a few muskets by this means.
Early in February 1776 Washington advised the President of the Continental Congress that there were nearly 2,000 men in camp without muskets. Congress responded with renewed efforts to stimulate the manufacture of firearms. It appointed a committee of five to contract for the manufacture of muskets and bayonets as well as to consider ways and means of encouraging their manufacture in all parts of the colonies. To augment the number of muskets that could be placed in the hands of troops, Congress also directed that all "disaffected persons" were to be disarmed. The weapons taken were to be appraised, but payment was to be made only for those that were serviceable or could be made so.66 Having already authorized procurement abroad, Congress could do little more than direct Washington to send an account of the troops who lacked arms to the assemblies and conventions of the colonies to which these men belonged, requesting them to send a sufficient number of arms for the men. If the arms could not be procured, Washington was to dismiss unarmed men from the service. In the meantime, Washington, lacking sufficient arms and powder, was restrained from undertaking any military operations against the British in Boston.67
The scarcity of arms persisted throughout 1776. To emphasize the condition of his army after its arrival in New York, Washington reported to the President of Congress in May that one regiment in the Highlands of the Hudson on 29 April 1776 had only 97 muskets and 7 bayonets. He noted that every regiment from New England lacked from 20 to 50 muskets. Neither then nor at any time during the war did his army have sufficient bayonets.68 Washington proposed still another measure for arming the troops. He had heard that there were from 2,000 to 3,000 stand of arms in the hands of the Committee of Safety at Philadelphia for "provincial use." He suggested that in this crisis Congress might borrow these and replace them with governmentowned arms later. This policy of borrowing arms from the states was resorted to on many other occasions during the war. In this instance-it is not clear if such a store of arms actually existed in Philadelphia-Congress took
65. Ibid., 4:264 (GO, 21 Jan 76); 345 (GO, 24 Feb 76). The money used had been allocated for advance pay to the recruits and would have to be replaced.
66. JCC, 4:205, 220-21 (14 and 20 Mar 76).
67. (1) Ibid., 4:223 (21 Mar 76). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 4:314, 336 (to Pres of Cong, 9 and 18 Feb 76).
68. (1) Ibid., 5:18-19 (5 May 76). (2) Sawyer, Firearms in American History, 1:76.
no action. However, it did order the Secret Committee to send to camp the muskets that were at Newport, Rhode Island. It also approved Washington’s additional suggestion that he employ an agent to purchase arms from those inhabitants in the interior parts of the colonies who were inclined to sell.69
Factors Contributing to Arms Shortage
Among the factors contributing to the shortage of arms in the spring of 1776 was the carelessness of the soldiers in maintaining their arms in good working order. An examination of the weapons of the army in New York revealed them to be in shocking condition. Washington issued an order to the regimental commanders to have the arms put in good order as soon as possible and to see that each musket was equipped with a bayonet. Those soldiers who had lost the bayonets they had been issued were to pay for new ones, and if any soldier had allowed his gun to be damaged by negligence, the cost of its repair was to be deducted from his pay.70 This order by no means eliminated negligence in caring for weapons. It persisted throughout the war. In the summer of 1777 Washington was again surprised to see the poor condition of many muskets. They were not only unfit for firing but also "very rusty," a condition, he announced in orders, that each soldier could prevent. He attributed this negligence to "an inexcusable inattention of the officers." He observed that "the great Sinking fund of our Arms is the carelessness of our Officers," and until they attended more strictly to their duty, a "set of Arms per annum would be as necessary as a suit of clothes." There was no excuse for this behavior, he wrote the Board of War in July 1777, except the unsettled state of his army since the new formation. Regiments were drawn together by detachments and were scarcely under any kind of regulation. The subalterns were young and ignorant of their duty, and noncommissioned officers were as "raw and inexperienced as the Common Soldiers." Washington could only hope that time would bring reform and make his force a regular army not just in name. In 1778 he once more called on commanding officers of companies to punish severely any noncommissioned officer or soldier who carelessly or willfully wasted arms, accouterments, or ammunition. As late as 1780 he found such waste continuing "in a great degree" in some corps.71
To promote better care of weapons, Washington substituted a policy of purchasing arms for that of hiring them. During the first two campaigns of the
69. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 5:18- 19 (5 May 76). (2) JCC, 4:354, 357 (13 and 14 May 76).
70. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 5:60-61 (GO, 19 May 76).
71. Ibid., 8:387-89 (12 Jul 77); 405-06 (14 Jul 77); 12:289 (00, 7 Aug 78); 18:6 (GO, 12 Feb 80).
war, it was the custom to encourage both the enlisted soldier and the militiaman to bring their own guns. But Washington soon came to link that policy with the lack of care the soldiers gave their muskets, for under it "a man feels at liberty to use his own firelock as he pleases." Owners of guns took little care of them, retained them when their service expired, and even disposed of them whenever they pleased. As early as January 1776 Washington had indicated that he was ready to purchase any arms offered by a colony or an individual.72
The system of hiring, however, continued until February 1777 when Washington initiated preparations for the next campaign. He informed Governor Trumbull of Connecticut that he now wanted guns purchased from owners on the account of the United States. Purchase, he wrote, would result in better care of the weapons and would eliminate many of the bad consequences of hiring arms. At the same time, he sent a circular to the New England states asking them to collect all arms that could be purchased from private individuals, since the arrival of imported arms was so uncertain. He requested them to pay particular attention to the quality of the arms bought. If the musket was not satisfactory both in lock and barrel, it was to "be thrown upon the Hands of the Commissary" who had purchased it.73 Getting the states to support this policy of purchase caused some difficulty, particularly in the case of Massachusetts, which received 5,000 weapons from supplies brought from France in the spring of 1777. Washington learned that Massachusetts was making the soldiers pay for these government-owned arms. This practice was exactly what be had been attempting to stop. The soldier was to pay only for losing or damaging his weapon. The Commander in Chief wanted no soldier to have "the least pretence to a property in his Arms." He therefore ordered Brig. Gen. Alexander McDougall to return to the soldiers any money that had been stopped from their pay for these arms.74
Another great cause of the waste of arms in Washington’s army was the insufficient number of armorers with the troops. Armorers had been included among the artificers of the Quartermaster’s Department since 1775, and they had repaired arms in the field. Since their number was limited, however, great reliance had to be placed on using the skills of armorers among the soldiers. Experience gained in the field led Washington and his Chief of Artillery, Brig. Gen. Henry Knox, to initiate measures designed to bring improvements. The latter’s proposals resulted in the establishment of the civil branch of the Ordnance Department and the appointment of Col. Benjamin Flower as Commissary General of Military Stores in January 1777. Meanwhile, at the close of the 1776 campaign, Washington had
72. Ibid., 4:247-48 (to Mass. legislature, 16 Jan 76).
73. Ibid., 7:112-13 (to Trumbull, 6 Feb 77); 113 (circular, 6 Feb 77).
74. Ibid., 8:26-27 (7 May 77).
instructed the Commissary of Military Stores, Ezekiel Cheever, to segregate the unserviceable arms that could not be repaired by the armorers with the main army, pack them in numbered chests with inventories, and send them to the Board of War at Philadelphia to be repaired by gunsmiths there.75 Following the establishment of the Department of the Commissary General of Military Stores, such unserviceable arms were sent to Colonel Flower or his deputies. The Commissary General employed as many workmen as necessary to repair arms and to pack them in chests, which were deposited in places of security until required.76 The appointment of Thomas Butler to supervise the repair of arms in Philadelphia and the enlistment of additional armorers in the Regiment of Artillery Artificers led the Board of War to anticipate that repair of arms would be expedited at Philadelphia and Springfield.77
Although these developments were helpful, the main Continental army still suffered froman insufficient number of armorers when it was in the field. "If the smallest matter is amiss in the Lock," Washington wrote the Board of War in the midst of his efforts to defend Philadelphia against General Howe in 1777, "the Gun is useless, and if an Armourer is not at hand to repair it, it must be returned into the Store and a new one drawn, or it is thrown aside into a Baggage Waggon and perhaps lost or broken by Carriage." To provide added assistance, the Board of War placed Butler and his men under Washington’s direction. At the latter’s request, Butler met with him to explore the possibility of supplying armorers to follow the army. There was no material improvement, however, until the Board of War, on the eve of the campaign of 1779, appointed a conductor for each brigade who had charge of a traveling forge equipped to make all practicable repairs of arms in the field.78
In the meantime, repair of arms under Butler at Philadelphia had not been as productive as the Board of War had hoped. At the end of August 1777 it reported that there were 2,000 to 3,000 arms in Philadelphia which could be repaired in a short time if workmen could be obtained. To accomplish these repairs, Congress, at the board's request, directed Washington to detach as soon as possible a sufficient number of workmen from the militia that had been called out to augment his strength. The many militiamen from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland who were then in the field without arms could be supplied in no other way. Washington at once issued an order to the brigadiers to detach and send those workmen who could be spared from military duties to repair the arms of their brigades.79
75. Ibid., 6:269-70 (10 Nov 76).
76. Ibid., 10:87 (GO, 19 Feb 77); 231 (to Flower, 30 Dec 77).
77. See above, Chapter 11, "Artillery Artificers."
78. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:19-20 (to Bd of War, 5 Aug 77). (2) Washington Papers, reel 43, set. 4 (13d of War to Washington, 5 Aug 77).
79. (1) JCC, 8:698 (30 Aug 77). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:167 (60, 2 Sep 77).
The repair effort appeared to be deteriorating. In March 1778 Washington noted the great number of arms reported as needing repairs at the various laboratories of the Commissary General’s department. "I am fearful," he wrote the Board of War, "that there is neglect in the Armourer’s department, owing to the inactivity of the person at the Head of that branch [Butler] who I am told is almost superannuated."80 After investigating, the board acknowledged that despite everything it had done, only "a trifling Number of Arms have been repaired," and now, on the eve of the 1778 campaign, it had insufficient serviceable weapons to arm either the Continental troops or the militia who might turn out for the defense of their country. The Board of War attributed the shortcomings to the armorer’s lack of energy and to the refusal of the Artillery Artificers to reenlist. The board dismissed Butler and appointed William Henry as superintendent of arms and accouterments.81 Henry operated a gunsmith shop at Lancaster that employed fourteen men. The Board of War was confident that he would serve the public well, for in the course of the winter of 1777-78 Henry and his workmen had repaired three times the number of arms repaired by the Artillery Artificers in Pennsylvania and had made an equal number of accouterments.82
As in other areas, the increasing depreciation of the currency after 1779 hampered repair work. Late in 1780 Washington learned that the Board of War was considering breaking up the armory at Albany. That armory had been productive and well directed by its superintendent, William Shepherd. Washington argued that its location in support of West Point and the troops in the Highlands and its access to water transportation made its retention desirable. The armory was retained, but the volume of its repair work declined because the board lacked the financial means to support its operations.83 After the surrender of the British at Yorktown, repair work by the Department of the Commissary General of Military Stores came to a halt. Such repairs of arms as were then made for the main Continental army were done by armorers in the brigades. But even these repairs were difficult to accomplish because borax and other necessary supplies for operating the traveling forges could not be obtained on credit. By November 1782 the number of arms rendered useless for lack of small repairs was so great that Washington appealed to the Secretary at War to devise some way of putting them in good order. Organizing a company of artificers from German prisoners, contracting for the repair of arms, or adopting some other expedient was
80. Ibid., 11:33-34 (6 Mar 78).
81. Henry was one of the most celebrated gunmakers of his time and had been armorer to Braddock’s expedition in 1755.
82. (1) RG 11, CC Papers, reel 157, 2:13-14 (Bd of War to Pres of Cong, 21 Apr 78). (2) Congress approved the board's action on 23 Apri 1. JCC, 10: 380 - 8 1.
83. (1) Washington Papers, reel 73, ser. 4 (Hamilton to Washington, 19 Dec 80). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 21:20-21 (to Philip Van Rensselaer, 27 Dec 80); 452 (to Brig Gen James Clinton, 12 Apr 81).
essential.84 Secretary Lincoln took no action, but the signing of the preliminary peace treaty on 30 November made the repair of the army's deteriorating weapons unnecessary.
A third factor contributing to the constant scarcity of arms was the need to equip the militiamen called into service for short periods, and their propensity to take home the arms, accouterments, and ammunition that had been issued to them. As Washington’s army opposed the British in New York, it became necessary to reinforce the army by calling out thousands of militiamen in the summer of 1776. Washington later observed that their officers generally "allowed their men to carry home everything put into their hands and in consequence forever lost to the public." In September of that year Congress had resolved that all Continental troops and militia going home from service were to restore all Continental arms, ammunition, and other property in their hands. Their pay was to be withheld unless they could produce certificates to that effect from the Commissary of Military Stores, the Quartermaster General, or their deputies in the department where the soldiers had served. It further called on the states to take action for restoring property that had been appropriated before the adoption of this resolution.85
As the campaign of 1776 neared its end, Washington ordered Commissary Cheever to recover all arms and other military stores that had been issued. He also made some of the Pennsylvania militia regiments leave their arms and accouterments upon being discharged. He gave the officers vouchers for what they turned in so that they could thereby cancel the receipts they had given for arms at Philadelphia. As he informed the Pennsylvania Council of Safety, he was certain that the discharged men would have taken the nearest road home instead of returning by way of Philadelphia, either dropping their arms en route or carrying them away with them. The weapons thereby would have been lost to the Continental Army. The need to call in and arm the militia "scatters our Armoury all over the World." Some effectual measures had to be instituted for recovering arms and accouterments, Washington concluded, or there would be the greatest difficulty in arming the regular regiments as they were raised.86
To institute greater control, Congress in February 1777 enacted a measure providing that all arms and accouterments belonging to the United States and those manufactured or acquired in the future were to be stamped and marked "U: States." Whenever such marked arms were found in the hands of men not in the Continental service, the states were to collect them.
84. (1) Ibid., 25:377 (to Sec at War, 27 Nov 82). See also 25:128 (to Knox, 5 Sep 82). (2) Washington Papers, reel 87, ser. 4 (Knox to Washington, 7 Sep 82).
85. JCC, 5:758 (14 Sep 76).
86. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:269-70 (to Cheever, 10 Nov 76); 7:49 (to Pres of Cong, 22 Jan 77); 68 (to Robert Morris, 27 Jan 77); 73 (to Maj Gen Horatio Gates, 28 Jan 77); 78-79 (to Pa. Council of Safety, 29 Jan 77). (2) See also Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 3:860 (Gen Heath to Cheever, 26 Nov 76).
Congress further recommended to the states that they enact measures to punish those who unlawfully took, secreted, or refused or neglected to deliver any Continental arms or accouterments in their possession. In implementing this measure to prevent waste and embezzlement, Washington ordered Colonel Flower in March to stamp all public arms and accouterments with the words "United States." This order applied to arms manufactured for the Continental Army as well as to those imported for its use. Washington directed Flower also to send several stamps to the Commissary of Military Stores at Morristown so that the arms held by the troops at camp might also be marked.87
Washington was greatly distressed early in 1777 by the demands upon him from all quarters for arms which he could not supply. "The scandalous Loss, waste, and private Appropriation of Public Arms during the last Campaign is beyond all conception," he wrote. He urged the states to call upon their colonels to account for the arms delivered to them in 1776. The scarcity of arms was threatening to build into a serious crisis early in 1777, but it was relieved before the end of March by the timely arrival of supplies-arms, powder, flints, and other military stores-from France.88 The efforts to recover arms had proved ineffectual in the winter of 1776-77. Despite the measures taken, this problem persisted throughout the war. As late as the spring of 1780, Washington was still warning his officers to give strict attention to prevent soldiers from carrying away their arms when their times of service expired. He had used every means in his power to prevent this practice, but he was "persuaded they do it in a variety of instances nevertheless." The loss of arms, he wrote Jeremiah Wadsworth, "is among the innumerable and unavoidable consequences of limited inlistments."89
Supply of Cannon
The colonists had few cannon at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and less experience with Artillery than with any other arm of the service. The artillery they had acquired represented an odd collection of European cannon, howitzers, and mortars. In the fall of 1775 Col. Richard Gridley, commanding officer of the First Regiment of Artillery, reported that he had a total of 41 cannon.90 In addition, there were three 10-inch mortars, nine 8-
87. (1) JCC, 7:84-85, 151 (3 and 24 Feb 77). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 7:340-41 (to Flower, 31 Mar 77).
88. (1) Ibid., 7:208-09 (to Mass. Council, 28 Feb 77); 215-16 (to N.Y. legislature, I Mar 77); 334 (to Gov Trumbull, 29 Mar 77); 328 (to Pres of Cong, 29 Mar 77). (2) Burnett, Letters, 2:310 (John Adams to James Warren, 24 Mar 77). (3) JCC, 7:211-12 (21 Mar 77).
89. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 18:309 (to Maj Gen Robert Howe, 28 Apr 80); 507 (to Wadsworth, 22 Jun 80).
90. These included five 24-pounders, six 18-pounders, two 12-pounders, three 9-pounders, one 8-pounder, two 6-pounders, four 5 ½ -pounders, seven 4-pounders, nine 3-pounders, and two 2 ½ -pounders.
inch mortars, two 7-inch brass mortars, and three 8-inch howitzers. Gridley further noted that he had on hand a total of 8,730 shot, most of it for the small cannon and fieldpieces. For a proposed army of 20,000 men, he estimated that he would need a total of 100 cannon, six 10-inch mortars, two 8inch mortars, two 7-inch mortars, and three 8-inch howitzers. He estimated that 10,000 shot would be needed for the smaller cannon and 5,000 for battering cannon.91
At the start of the war the Continental Army obtained fieldpieces by the capture of enemy artillery or through domestic production. Although Washington’s desire to attack Boston was rejected in February 1776 by his council of officers because of insufficient powder, he was also in no position to initiate such an operation until he had heavy artillery. Such large-caliber guns had been in American hands since the capture of Ticonderoga on 10 May and Crown Point on 12 May 1775 by New England troops under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold.92 Unfortunately, the transportation of these guns to Cambridge had posed difficult problems, and despite Arnold’s report that he would send the 24-pounders and the 12- and 6-pound howitzers as directed by Colonel Gridley, no action had been taken. As a result of decisions made at a conference at Cambridge, Washington dispatched Col. Henry Knox on 16 November 1775 to obtain such military stores as could be spared from New York and from Crown Point and Ticonderoga for the use of the main Continental army.93 In preparation for this mission, Knox, who was to be appointed Chief of Artillery the following day, examined the state of the Artillery and determined what was needed. His inquiry revealed, as he reported to Washington, that New York could not furnish any heavy cannon, but patriots there assured him that when the provincial congress met, it undoubtedly would send twelve iron 4-pounders with a quantity of shells and shot to Cambridge. They also promised the loan of two brass 6-pounders. The latter had been cast in a foundry in New York City at a cost less than that of those imported. If Washington thought it proper, he wrote, he could give orders for casting any desired number of brass 6-pounders.94 Knox apparently assumed there would be no shortage of material.
He arrived at Fort George, New York, on 4 December, where Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler gave him a list of stores at Ticonderoga. It took Knox ten days to remove the artillery he selected from Ticonderoga to Fort George.
91. In addition to 40 cannon of 6-, 4-, and 3-pound caliber, this army would need 36 cannon of 24- and 18-pound caliber, and 20 cannon of 12- and 9-pound caliber. Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 3: 1166-67 (inventory, 20 Oct 75).
92. For a report of the cannon taken, see ibid., 4th ser., 2:646 (Arnold to Mass. Committee of Safety, 19 May 75). Arnold listed I I I pieces of artillery taken at Crown Point and 86 at Ticonderoga. While some were described as useless, more than 100 pieces of artillery, including many heavy cannon and some mortars, were serviceable.
93. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 4:91 (to Knox, 16 Nov 75); 93-94 (to N.Y. legislature, same date); 92 (to Gen Schuyler, same date). (2) JCC, 3:400 (2 Dec 75).
94. Washington Papers, reel 34, ser. 4 (Knox to Washington, 24 Nov 75).
KNOX’S TRANSPORTATION OF ARTILLERY FROM TICONDEROGA
The pieces included 8 brass and 6 iron mortars. Three of the latter were massive 13-inch mortars weighing a ton each. He also selected 2 howitzers; 13 brass cannon, which included one 24-pounder and one 18-pounder; and 26 iron cannon, 10 of which were 18-pounders and the rest 6-, 9-, and 12-pounders. To these he added one large box of flints and 23 boxes of lead, each weighing 100 pounds.95 To move this artillery by flat-bottomed scows to the head of Lake George, by sleds to Albany, by ferry across the Hudson, and then by teams to Claverack and through the Berkshires to Framingham was a tremendous transportation task. Knox procured 42 strong sleds and 80 yoke of oxen, guided by New York drivers, to drag the artillery to Springfield. Massachusetts teamsters and fresh animals then brought the train to Framingham late in January. While the smaller cannon were hauled immediately to camp, the larger pieces of artillery remained at Framingham until Washington was ready to place them at his forts for the bombardment of Boston.96
When the British army evacuated Boston, it left behind a considerable quantity of military stores and ordnance which it had attempted to render
95. Ibid., reel 34, ser. 4 (Knox to Washington, 5 Dec 75); reel 35, set. 4 (Knox to same, 17 Dec 75).
96. (1) Ibid. (2) Knox Papers, LM-39, reel 2 (Knox to Capt Palmer, 12 Dec 75). (3) French, The First Year of the American Revolution, pp. 655 - 56.
unusable. Some of these supplies were retrieved from the harbor and made serviceable for Washington's army, including two 13-inch mortars and beds, thirteen 6- and 4-pound cannon, and various carriages for cannon, shot, and shells. The surrender of Burgoyne in 1777 provided a windfall of 49 equipped pieces.97 The fortunes of war did not always favor the Continental Army. When the troops retreated from New York City, the British took possession of a considerable amount of ammunition, stores, and baggage as well as cannon. So extensive were the losses that a congressional committee, sent to New York to inquire into the condition of the main army, reported that, among other needs, the army required eighteen brass 6-pound and eighteen brass 3-pound fieldpieces.98 The fall of Fort Washington to the British on 16 November 1776 and of Fort Lee on the opposite side of the Hudson four days later brought further disastrous losses to Washington’s army. These included 146 iron and brass cannon, 12,000 shot and shells, 2,800 muskets, and 400,000 musket cartridges.99
Domestic Production of Cannon, Shot, and Shells
While Knox was transporting cannon from Ticonderoga to Cambridge, the Continental Congress initiated measures to procure cannon through local production. In 1775 a line of furnaces and forges extended from New Hampshire to South Carolina. Some cannon had been cast in earlier colonial wars, and at the outbreak of the Revolution some ordnance was cast for Maj. Gen. Artemas Ward at the Stoughtonham, Massachusetts, furnace.100 The Salisbury ironworks in Connecticut and Livingston’s furnace and other
ironworks in New York supported the Continental Army. When the war became centered in the Middle Department, transportation costs dictated that most production of iron and brass cannon and of shot and shells should be located in Maryland, in New Jersey, and particularly in Pennsylvania, with its many ironmasters.101
On 15 January 1776 the Continental Congress appointed a committee of five to estimate the number of cannon needed for the defense of the colonies, to devise ways and means for procuring them, and to determine the largest size of cannon that could be cast in the colonies. Having learned of arrangements
97. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 6:680-81 (John Frazer to Pres of Cong, I Jun 76). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of'Washington, 4:404-05 (to Pres of Cong, 19 Mar 76); 407 (to Schuyler, same date); 9:451 -55 (to Landon Carter, 27 Oct 77).
98. (1) These included fifteen 32-pounders, seven 12-pounders, nine 9-pounders, one 6-pounder, six 4-pounders, and two 3-pounders, all mounted on garrison carriages; one 3pounder on a traveling carriage and 26 dismounted. Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 2:493; 3:105859. (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 5:843 Q Oct 76).
99. Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution, 2 vols. (New York, 1952), 1:274.
100. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 7:441 -42n.
101. See Arthur C. Bining, Pennsylvania Iron Manufacture in the Eighteenth Century (Harrisburg, 1938).
made by Maryland to have cannon cast for its use by Daniel and Samuel Hughes of Frederick, the Cannon Committee inquired whether the latter would enter into a contract to supply the demands of Congress. Under congressional orders, the Cannon Committee was either to purchase or contract for the manufacture of two hundred and fifty 12-pounders, sixty 9-pounders, and sixty-two 4-pounders. It also had authority to contract for the casting of 40 howitzers.102 After discussing the production of 1,000 tons of cannon with the Hughes brothers, the committee entered into a contract which advanced 8,000 dollars to the company, and Congress approved the committee’s action. Other contractors sought to produce cannon for the government. Among these were Curtis and Peter Grubb of the Cornwall furnace in Pennsylvania; Jacob Faesch, owner of a blast furnace at Mount Hope, New Jersey; and Col. Mark Bird of Reading, proprietor of the Hopewell furnace in Pennsylvania, who signed a contract and received a 2,000 dollar advance. 101 Production, however, did not go smoothly. The Board of War employed Daniel Joy as its agent to prove the cannon being manufactured for the government. On 11 May 1776 he went to prove 44 cannon at the Cornwall furnace and 150 at the Hopewell furnace. He reported that not one of the latter "stood proof," and that none of the brass cannon were sound "until my advice was taken."104 The Cannon Committee handled the domestic procurement of cannon for the Continental Congress until July 1777, when Congress directed the Board of War to take over from the committee all the contracts it had made and all accounts of advances given to the producers of cannon. Thereafter, Congress vested in the Board of War all the power it had formerly given to the Cannon Committee.105
In the meantime, James Byers had cast some cannon for the main Continental army in New York in 1776, and Washington had attempted to obtain heavy cannon from the Salisbury furnace in Connecticut. Governor Trumbull, however, could not comply with his request without leaving the port and harbor of New London defenseless. In July he promised to deliver 12 pounders from the furnace as soon as they were finished. He anticipated that 18-pounders would soon be cast, the largest caliber that could be hoped for from that furnace.106 In view of the losses sustained in New York, the need to obtain additional fieldpieces became acute. As the campaign of 1776 drew to a close, Washington insisted that there could be no delay in casting cannon. The Cannon Committee agreed. On 16 July'1776 it had written General
102. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 4:914 (Md. delegates to Md. Council of Safety, 2 Feb 76). (2) JCC, 4:153 (13 Feb 76); 280 (13 Apr 76).
103. (1) Ibid., 5:593, 599 (19 Jul 76). Within about two months Congress granted an additional advance of 13,233'/3 dollars to Daniel and Samuel Hughes. See 5:835 (30 Sep 76); 5:695 (22 Aug 76). (2) See Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 5:329 (to Pres of Cong, 23 Jul 76).
104. RG 93, Misc Numbered Docs 20464.
105. JCC, 8:572-73 (23 Jul 77).
106. Washington Papers, reel 37, ser. 4 (Trumbull to Washington, 17 Jul 76).
Knox that Congress would employ Byers if his terms were reasonable. By the end of the year the committee daily expected his arrival in Philadelphia, where there was an air furnace. By that time, Washington was writing about the employment of Byers to Robert Morris and to other members of the committee who had remained at Philadelphia after Congress had fled the city. He urged the necessity of casting 6-, 3-, and a few 12-pounders and of providing shot and carriages for them.107 Byers eventually became superintendent of the brass foundry in Philadelphia, but the British threat to the city, the temporary withdrawal of Congress, and the confusion of that period resulted in delays in preparing cannon for the next campaign.
The efforts to produce domestically the cannon needed by Washington's army proved disappointing, as the Secret Committee had anticipated. Writing to the commissioners in Paris, it advised them not to bother conferring with the Cannon Committee, since the latter would be unable to procure the proper metal required for production. It requested that they instead contract for the needed supplies.108 Domestic production has hampered not only by a shortage of materials but also by the loss of artisans and laborers called to serve in the militia. Proprietors of ironworks and furnaces petitioned their respective state legislatures to exempt their work forces from militia duty. In the summer of 1777 the Continental Congress itself requested the Executive Council of Pennsylvania to discharge from the militia eleven workmen employed by Mark Bird in producing cannon for the Continental Army. Earlier that year Congress had recommended that the states exempt from militia duty all persons employed in manufacturing military stores of any kind and in casting shot. It repeated this recommendation the following year. The need for workmen was great enough to cause the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety to authorize ironmasters employed in casting cannon or shot for the Continental Army to use prisoners of war as laborers.109 At the request of Daniel and Samuel Hughes, Congress ordered the discharge of a soldier in the main Continental army so that this artisan could enter into their service. Washington did not welcome this action, for if all such applications for artificers were complied with, his army would sustain a considerable loss of manpower. The need to obtain the production of much needed military stores, however, compelled him nonetheless to yield to applications for artificers with specific skills. He even detailed forty soldiers to
107. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:406 (to Pres of Cong, 20 Dec 76); 474 (to Morris, 7 Jan 77). (2) Bumett, Letters, 2:12 (Robert Treat Paine to Knox, 16 Jul 76); 190 (Francis Lewis to Robert Morris, 26 Dec 76).
108. Ibid., 2:218-19 (Morris to commissioners, 14 Jan 77).
109. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 3:409-10 (Stephen Rice and James Woods to Mass. Council and House of Representatives, 25 Oct 76); 5th ser., 1: 1] 12 - 13 (petition of proprietors of the Sterling ironworks, - Aug 76); 1289-90 (Pa. Committee of Safety proceedings, 5 Jul 76). (2) See also an entry in the account of Eye and Gwynn, proprietors of the Mary Ann furnace near Baltimore, Md., for the use of thirty-four prisoners of war. RG 93, Misc Numbered Docs 20438 (4 Nov 82). (3) JCC, 7:248 (9 Apr 77); 10:412 (1 May 78); 8:495-96 (24 Jul 77).
Gabriel Ogden’s ironworks at Pompton, New Jersey, where cannon balls and grapeshot were being cast.110
To shortages of material and labor was added the impact of a depreciating currency by 1778. The profits from contracts were proving illusory, and at least in one case a contract was revised to provide a larger payment per ton for cannon being produced for the Continental Army.111 As the casting of cannon slackened, ironmasters turned increasingly to the production of shot and shells. Lack of funds in the Treasury caused delays in payments by the Board of War to the ironmasters for their work. In the summer of 1780 some of them found it impossible to make the necessary preparations for putting their furnaces in blast. Paid late for their work and in a depreciating currency, they could neither procure materials nor hire workmen.112 The government still owed many of them large amounts of money on past contracts, and their reluctance to enter into additional contracts during the closing years of the war is understandable. Like many other suppliers in the Revolution, the ironmasters were making a forced contribution to the support of the war.
Delivery and Distribution
At the beginning of the war the Secret Committee customarily reported to Congress the arrival of supplies imported by the government. Congress then directed their delivery to the Navy, the main Continental army, or the Northern Army, as the nature of the stores and the various needs dictated.113 In September 1776 Congress transferred responsibility for the custody of military stores from the Secret Committee to the Board of War. Thereafter, the board informed Washington of the military stores it was holding so that he could direct their delivery in whole or in part to the Continental Army. On at least one occasion Congress found it necessary to emphasize its exclusive authority over the delivery of stores imported by the government. The Continental Agent who received the military stores imported in the Hancock and Adams delivered part of the arms to Massachusetts and arms, powder, lead, and flints to Rhode Island at the request of those two states. Although the urgent need for these arms and stores excused his action in this instance, Congress made it clear that Continental Agents could deliver stores in their custody only on its orders or those of its duly authorized representatives.114
110, (1) Ibid., 6:1008-09 (6 Dec 76). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings Of Washington, 12:65-66 (to Daniel Roberdeau, 15 Jun 78); 8:5-6 (to Brig Gen Nathaniel Heard, 2 May 77).
111. JCC, 10:306-08 (4 Apr 78); 12:967 (29 Sep 78).
112. RG 11, CC Papers, reel 149, 4:456-59 (Bd of War to Cong, 22 Jul 80).
113. See JCC, 6:866 (15 Oct 76); 890 (21 Oct 76); 952 - 53 (15 Nov 76).
114. Ibid., 7:59-60 (23 Jan 77).
Washington’s authority from Congress to direct and dispose of ordnance and ordnance stores within the Continental Army initially was satisfactory. By 1777, however, he found his authority not "competent to the purpose." The power to direct and dispose of military stores, he charged, was being exercised through so many channels that confusion frequently was resulting. At the end of March 1777, for example, Congress voted to deliver to the Massachusetts Bay Council 5,000 of the weapons that had arrived at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, from France for use in arming troops being raised in that state. At the same time, it directed the Secret Committee to deliver the remainder of the cargo of arms, powder, and flints at the direction of the Board of War.115 Washington, who had viewed the arrival of these arms and other military stores as a "most fortunate and happy event" for his troops, apparently had no knowledge of these actions, for when representatives of the Massachusetts Council applied for the arms early in April, he was greatly distressed. He found it hard to believe that Massachusetts could need such a large number of arms if it had taken proper measures for collecting government-owned weapons and purchasing all that could be obtained from private individuals. Nothing, he wrote Maj. Gen. William Heath, "now will content that Government but the New Arms lately arrived there," which were needed for troops in Washington’s army who otherwise could not be provided with weapons. He had reason to believe, he added, that no state was in a better position than Massachusetts to furnish its own arms. "Indeed, I am informed that Arms, and other Military Stores are hoarding up in that government." To prevent any delay, however, he directed General Heath to issue orders for such number of arms for the Massachusetts troops as appeared absolutely necessary. At the same time, he urged the state to collect, repair, and deposit in arsenals all government-owned arms and to pursue every means of procuring arms through other channels.116
Except for the arms immediately needed in the eastern states, Washington intended to have all the weapons arriving at Portsmouth late in April moved to Springfield, which he felt was a safer and more convenient supply point for the Continental Army. He therefore ordered John Langdon, the Continental Agent at that port who had received the stores, to send 3,000 arms to Springfield. Langdon, however, felt that he could not comply with Washington’s order because Congress had directed him to hold, for disposal by the Board of War, all of the 12,000 stand of arms that were not appropriated. Calling this division of authority to the attention of the President of Congress, Washington urged that corrective action be taken.117
115. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 7:328 (to Pres of Cong, 29 Mar 77). (2) JCC, 7:211-12 (31 Mar 77).
116. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 7:383 (to Heath, 10 Apr 77); 390 (to William Sever and Thomas Cushing, same date).
117. Ibid., 8:7-8 (to Pres of Cong, 3 May 77). See also 8:2-3 (to Heath, 2 May 77); 15 (to Langdon, 3 May 77).
At the same time, the Amphitrite brought a train of field artillery to Portsmouth. It consisted of 52 fieldpieces, which were moved to Springfield. Of these, 31 were of a Swedish light construction, and Washington ordered them forwarded to camp via Litchfield. The other 21 were so heavy and unmanageable that they were unsuitable for field service. The Commander in Chief and his staff judged it expedient to have them melted down and recast at Springfield to make them more portable.118 This action had an added advantage in that an increased number of fieldpieces would thereby be obtained, since each of the heavy 4-pounders would make nearly three sufficiently substantial 6-pounders. No sooner had these cannon arrived than Governor Trumbull requested some of them. Washington refused; the number was so small, he informed the governor, that only two fieldpieces could be given to each brigade of the main army, for some also had to be held in reserve. Meanwhile, General Schuyler had applied for twelve fieldpieces. He was in garrison at that time in the Northern Department. Since Washington judged Schuyler had sufficient garrison artillery, he rejected the latter’s application but advised him that he would be supplied from the next cargo that arrived. Not content with applying to Washington, Schuyler also sent an order to the commanding officer of Artillery at Springfield, directing that twelve fieldpieces be sent to him immediately. III consequences, Washington wrote the Board of War, would flow from such an irregular mode of drawing supplies; the power to draw military supplies had to be fixed in one place.119 Within a few weeks Washington reiterated to the Board of War the necessity for placing all military stores under the direction, and subject to the distribution orders, of the board or some one person. Otherwise, he argued, some states would continue to stop supplies allotted to others, while officers commanding in separate military departments would draw supplies on their own authority, each taking care of his own needs without regard to the general command. The result would continue to be confusion. 120
No immediate improvement occurred. A few months later the disposition to be made of certain artillery brought conflicting orders from Washington and the Board of War. Early in 1778 Knox left camp to supervise the ordnance preparations for the coming campaign. Among the orders he received from Washington was one to forward artillery at Albany to some place closer to the main army. However, both generals thought it advisable to wait until spring so that water transportation could be used. In the meantime, the Board of War had ordered twenty-five of these fieldpieces and two howitzers sent to Fannington, Connecticut, as Knox informed Washington. The latter thereupon inquired whether the board had any particular reason for this
118. Ibid., 8:318 - 19 (to Bd of War, 30 Jun 77). See also 8:323 - 24 (to Du Coudray, same date).
119. Ibid., 8:290 (to Trumbull, 23 Jun 77); 254 (to Schuyler, 16 Jun 77); 318 - 21 (to Bd of War, 30 Jun 77).
120. Ibid., 8:387-89 (12 Jul 77).
disposal. If not, he wanted the artillery at Farmington immediately forwarded to Pennsylvania, for when spring came the roads across the mountains from Connecticut to the Hudson River would be impassable. Knox awaited instructions, and another month went by before Washington heard from the Board of War. In the end, Knox was ordered to send what the army did not need to Carlisle. Washington agreed with the board that Carlisle should become the grand arsenal of all artillery and ordnance stores on the west side of the Hudson, as Springfield was on the east.121
Despite Washington's pleas in 1777 for centralizing distribution authority, it was not until early 1779 that Congress vested authority in the Board of War to distribute all military stores, arms, and ordnance deposited in fixed magazines. On the basis of estimates prepared and submitted to it, the board authorized distribution in all cases except emergencies that required quicker action than would occur in following the established procedure.122 It took time, however, to make this new procedure effective. Three months after it went into effect, Brig. Gen. James Clinton and the storekeeper at Albany sent a requisition for military stores directly to Commissary Cheever at Springfield. The latter referred it to the Board of War, where it should have been sent in the first place. The board was surprised at the size of the order, which it could not fill because of the depleted state of the magazines. It directed Cheever to send a fourth of what was requested and to await further orders from Washington, to whom the board sent copies of the requisition and its order.123 Washington called the new regulation to the attention of General Gates in June. Later, when that officer wanted him to confirm an order for fifty barrels of powder, Washington assured him that such action was unnecessary, for "you have in this respect the same power in conjunction with your commanding officer of Artillery, which I have," that is, to prepare and submit an estimate to the Board of War.124
Issue and Accountability
Problems of accountability and issue had become acute in 1777. Despite the large quantities of arms delivered to the troops after the arrival of supplies from France, there were constant demands for arms and accouterments. These demands were greater than the amount of supplies in the magazines, the Board of War informed Washington; 12,000 arms had been delivered from the magazine at Philadelphia in four months, and "yet the troops, tho not equal in Numbers already have large Demands." Washington could
121. Ibid., 10:486-87 (to Bd of War, 21 Feb 78); 11: 112-13 (to same, 20 Mar 78).
122. See above, Chapter 11, "Revised Regulation for Field Organization."
123. The requisition called for, among other supplies, 30 tons of lead and 15 tons of powder. Cheever had on hand about 10 tons of lead and 70 barrels of powder. Washington Papers, reel 58, set. 4 (Bd of War to Washington, 25 May 79).
124. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 15:271 -72, 477 (to Gates, 13 Jun and 25 Jul 79).
not understand what had become of all the arms imported in the previous six months. They either had been issued to the militia and never returned, he argued, or they had been appropriated by the states for their private magazines while their troops had been furnished with old and indifferent arms.125
In response to the Board of War’s request for his view on what could be done, Washington proposed as a first step that the Commissary General of Military Stores be directed to make a detailed report of the arms and accouterments delivered to the Continental Army during the past four or five months, specifying the names of the officers to whom delivery had been made and their corps. Such a report would enable a comparison to be made between an officer’s requisitions and the number of arms already delivered to him, and would thus allow the propriety of his calls to be judged. Washington pointed out that in the past it had been customary for the commissary to deliver arms and military stores to officers who presented a return of deficiencies signed by the Adjutant General. With demand greater than supply, Washington ordered all commanding officers of corps to submit a return of their deficiencies, and if the entire amount of arms required could not be supplied, the stores on hand would have to be apportioned among the corps.126 Apportionment solved the immediate, problem, but no basic changes in issue were made even though the need for them became increasingly apparent. On the eve of the campaign of 1779 the supply of arms fell so short of demand that Maj. Gen. 9ohn Sullivan’s requisitions for an additional 1,000 arms for an expedition against the Indians could not be filled. 127 Washington stressed that the greatest economy would have to be exercised in distributing arms; otherwise, some troops might be fully supplied while others were very poorly supplied.
It was in the midst of this shortage that new controls were instituted in the field by the appointment of a conductor of military stores in each brigade, the introduction of brigade returns of arms deficiencies, and the imposition of deductions from pay for arms los4 or damaged. Arms, ammunition, and accouterments were thereafter issued, or proportioned, if necessary, only on the order of the Chief of Artillery.128 These new procedures imposed in May failed to operate effectively because of the "surprising inattention" given to them. Washington was astonished that week after week he received returns of men unfit for duty "for Want of Arms" when arms were available and the method of applying for them had been explained. Eight months later he still observed a deficiency of arms being reported in all returns and he called for explanations from his brigade commanders. Only by closely
125. (1) Ibid., 8:367n. (to Pres of Cong, 7 Jul 77). (2) Washington Papers, reel 43, ser. 4 (Bd of War to Washington, 3 Aug 77).
126. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:19-20 (to Bd of War, 5 Aug 77).
127. Ibid., 15:171 (to Sullivan, 28 May 79). See also 15:160 (to Bd of War, 27 May 79).
128. See above, Chapter 11, "Improvernent of Field Arrangements."
examining inspectors’ reports of "defects and abuses" and by calling the attention of the brigade commanders to these reports and to the measures for remedying them was Washington able to bring about any improvement.129
Under the impact of inflation domestic production of ordnance and ordnance stores fell off sharply after the first three years of the war. Ordnance magazines were distressingly low in powder; arms were so scarce that requisitions could not be filled and issues had to be made on a proportionate basis; and cannon were needed everywhere. In the spring of 1779 Washington was particularly concerned about the posts on the Hudson. "The imperfect state of defence in which they have hitherto been," he informed the Board of War, "has been an inconceivable clogg and incumbrance to our general operations."130 An estimate of the heavy cannon that were needed had been sent to Congress, but the prospects for obtaining them were not promising. Appeals to the states for loans of ordnance and ordnance stores were made by Washington and the Continental Congress, and more and more reliance had to be placed on importing the necessary supplies from France.
Despite the distressing supply situation, great efforts were made to gather available military stores in anticipation of a cooperative effort with Admiral, d’Estaing in 1779 against New York City. This project failed to materialize, as did another proposed combined siege of the city the following year. The ordnance supply situation did not improve. In the summer of 1780 Washington was greatly concerned about the failure of arms and powder to arrive from France. He lacked sufficient powder and more than half the arms he needed to equip the recruits. "Unless therefore our Allies can lend us largely we certainly can attempt nothing," he wrote to Lafayette, when he was still hoping to stage a joint campaign with General Rochambeau against New York. "With every effort we can make we shall fall short at least four or five thousand arms, and two hundred tons of powder," he added, and he begged Lafayette to ascertain whether a loan of these supplies could be obtained from the French.131 A closer inspection of the available supplies led Washington to conclude that he could arm the recruits and collect enough powder for the enterprise "if in the course of the operation we can depend on the fifty ton expected from France and can obtain fifty ton more from the
129. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 16:125-26 (GO, 17 Aug 79). See also 17:429-30 (to brigade commanders, 22 Jan 80); 18:62-63 (to Brig Gen John Stark, - Feb 80); 4 (to Gen Clinton, 12 Feb 80); 6 (GO, 12 Feb 80).
130. Ibid., 14:389-90 (15 Apr 79).
131. Ibid., 19:236-38 (22 Jul 80).
[French] fleet." Washington continued to count on the arrival of arms and powder from France, but when the Alliance sailed, it left the needed supplies on the docks at L'Orient. Washington thought that "no material inconvenience" would result if these supplies were then shipped safely on the Ariel.132 In fact, as far as the proposed cooperative action was concerned, the arrival of these supplies proved to be irrelevant since the British were strong enough to keep the French fleet and the troops under Rochambeau blockaded at Newport.
Knox had pointed out that there was such a shortage of powder that there would not be a sufficient amount on hand for siege operations even if all the powder expected from France arrived safely on the Alliance. At Washington's request, the Chief of Artillery had prepared an estimate of the Ordnance supplies that would be needed for the proposed joint effort. Basing his estimate on the one prepared for cooperation with Admiral d'Estaing in 1779, he doubled the quantities of shot, shells, and powder in order to provide for a sixty-day campaign and added another third to each figure to take care of the longer days of operations.133 The Board of War, however, had fewer supplies in 1780 than in the previous year, and even if there had been no other objections, the time was too short for gathering the supplies Knox had listed. It was utterly impossible, the board argued, for it to procure more than half the estimate that Knox had sent. For Washington's information, it enclosed a return of military stores on hand, which showed large deficiencies.134
Not only did ordnance stores have to be supplied but they also had to be transported to the area of operations. Responding to a request for his opinion on the practicality of furnishing the teams necessary to transport the ordnance stores needed for the proposed siege operations in 1780, Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene was not sanguine. Knox had estimated that the weight of the cannon and ordnance stores would be 3,388 tons, and Greene calculated that it would require 500 teams of 4 horses each to move such a quantity between Trenton and Dobbs Ferry if 12 days were allowed for each team to make a round trip. Since the Quartermaster’s Department had no control over the method of drawing out teams and providing forage, Greene felt that it would be necessary to rely on impressment to obtain the teams. But even this method would be unsuccessful unless money was made
132. (1) Ibid., 19:443 (to Rochambeau, 26 Aug 80). (2) Capt. Pierre Landais of the U.S. Navy, who became insane before the Alliance reached America, had instigated a mutiny, seized command of the ship, and sailed without the supplies.
133. Washington Papers, reel 66, ser. 4 (Knox to Washington, 23 May 80); reel 67, ser. 4 (Washington to Knox, 26 Jun 80; Knox to committee of Cong, 27 Jun 80). For the 1779 estimate, see reel 62, ser. 4 (Knox to Washington, 5 Nov 79).
134. Of the 15,000 10-inch shells that were needed, there was a shortage of 4,275; of the 36,000 12-pound shot, 21,179 were lacking. Ibid., reel 68, ser. 4 (Bd of War to Washington, 11Jul 80, and return).
available for quieting the demands of creditors and restoring fiscal confidence.135
The Board of War laid its estimate of shot, shells, and gunpowder before Congress in July, asking for immediate action since the time for procurement was so short. It noted that it had received no notice of the intended operations until early that month. Congress authorized procurement of 615 tons of shot for battering cannon and 947 tons of shells of the different sizes required. It provided the board with 4 million dollars.136 Washington hoped that the quantities voted by Congress could be procured in time, but he feared that only Faesch's furnace, to which Knox was directed to apply, was in blast. It would take several months before others could be put in operation. But even if the shot and shells could not be made in time for the proposed operation in 1780, he recommended that the Board of War nevertheless procure them as soon as possible for the next year’s campaign. "A false hope that each Campaign would be the last, has been the principal cause of our being constantly unprovided with military apparatus of every kind in due time, and from the present appearances we have no reason to think that the present Campaign will end the war." He recommended also that the Board of War procure more than the estimate, accumulating as many supplies as its means and credit would allow.137
Early in February 1781 Washington informed Knox of his conference with Rochambeau and of their plans for laying siege to New York City that year. He requested Knox to prepare estimates of the ordnance supplies needed by an army of 20,000. Knox willingly did so, but he doubted that his efforts would produce any results. He could make estimates and submit them "to the Board of War, as I have done in times past," he wrote Washington, but "probably they will meet the same fate of being unattended to or disputed, until the moment of making proper provision shall be past." The Ordnance Department, he added, was in a "wretched and palsied state," and the existing ordnance and military stores were totally inadequate to "the demands of an arduous operation." Knox in vain had "strained every nerve" to get an ample supply of shot and shells, but as soon as the prospect of a military operation had vanished, the greater part of the contracts made to support the proposed campaign of 1780 had been "arrested by an order of the board of war just as the furnaces began to work, to the great detriment and utter ruin of some of the owners." Knox must have known that the board, with little money to pay for these contracts, had acted to seize what it saw as an opportunity to reduce expenses. The supply of powder was so low that after a reasonable quantity was provided for the important Highland posts, literally none would remain on hand. Besides the lack of cannon suitable for
135. Ibid., 142:97 (Greene to committee of Cong, 20 Jul 80).
136. JCC, 17:658-61, 667-68 (24 and 25 Jul 80).
137. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 19:317-18 (3 Aug 80).
a siege as well as shot, shells, and powder, the laboratories upon which Washington’s army depended for the preparation of fixed ammunition were in such deplorable condition for lack of money, materials, and workmen as to be incapable of giving any assistance. Work at Springfield was either entirely at a standstill or on the point of it. Moreover, it would be difficult to procure much by applying to the states. They had only small stocks of their own, and in any case each state firmly adhered to the principle that it was "bound in the first place to provide for its own defense."138
Despite this dismal view, Washington proceeded with preparations. On 17 February Knox furnished a return of the cannon, mortars, and howitzers, including their ammunition, belonging to the United States which could be collected from the states to form part of the train for siege.139 Washington sent a copy to the President of Congress. He appealed to Massachusetts and Rhode Island to lend his army heavy cannon as well as powder. He also requested that twenty government-owned 18-pounders that were in the possession of the Eastern Continental Navy Board be sent to him and that powder be loaned to the army.140 Both Massachusetts and Rhode Island complied with the requisitions for the loan of cannon, and Massachusetts also agreed to lend 100 barrels of powder. Since his greatest deficiency was in powder, Knox hoped that the Board of War would forward all that could be procured in Pennsylvania and Maryland. He arranged for the powder to come forward, the first shipment by 20 July and succeeding ones three to four days apart thereafter. The board was to hold shot, shells, and forty tons of the largest sized grapeshot in readiness for transportation by 25 July.141 With great exertion and with state assistance the heavy artillery and stores loaned by Rhode Island and Massachusetts were transported to the Hudson. The supplies from Pennsylvania, halted at Philadelphia until offensive operations became a certainty, were dispatched southward when military plans shifted to operations in Virginia.142
The ordnance attached to the American army for these operations included 15 brass fieldpieces (two 12-pounders, four 3-pounders, six 6-pounders, and three 5 ½ -inch howitzers), as well as implements, carriages, 200 rounds for each piece, and needed small stores. For siege purposes there were three iron 24-pounders and twenty iron 18-pounders, plus two 8-inch
138. Washington Papers, reel 75, ser. 4 (Knox to Washington, 13 Feb 81).
139. (1) RG 93, Misc Numbered Docs 21156 (return). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 21:238-39 (to Cong, 17 Feb 81). (3) His letter was read and referred to the Board of War on 26 Feb 81. JCC, 19:194.
140. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 22:153 - 54 (to Gov John Hancock, 2 Jun 8 1); 219, 338 (to Navy Bd, 15 Jun and 8 Jul 81). (2) Washington Papers, reel 78, ser. 4 (to Hancock and Trumbull, 25 May 81; to Gov William Greene, 2 Jun 81).
141. Knox Papers, LM - 39, reel 6 (Knox to Bd of War, 27 Jun 81).
142. (1) Washington Papers, reel 80, set. 4 (Washington to Pres of Cong, 2 Aug 81). (2) For a return of ordnance and of part of the military stores on hand at Philadelphia on 4 Aug 8 1, see Knox Papers, LM-39, reel 7 (Hodgdon return).
mortars, three 8-inch howitzers, ten 10-inch mortars, and six 5 ½ -inch howitzers, all of brass. These pieces were complete with carriages, beds, implements, powder, and shot and shells for 500 rounds each.143 Included in the stores coming with the troops from the Hudson were 5,000 paper cartridges for 10-inch mortars, 850 paper cartridges and 100 flannel cartridges for 8-inch howitzers, 181 fireballs, 500 muskets with bayonets, 216,798 musket cartridges, 4,000 flints, 10 garrison carriages for 18-pounders, a laboratory tent, implements, and tool sets. This list by no means included all ordnance stores. Upon his arrival at Philadelphia en route to Virginia, Knox submitted supplementary requests for shells, shot, and other supplies to the Board of War on 17 and 31 August.144
En route Knox also called upon the governor of Maryland to supply 30,000 feet of white oak plank for siege operations, and he requested that eight tons of powder belonging to the United States at Frederick Town be shipped to Virginia. At Fredericksburg he conferred with James Hunter at his ironworks on the iron that would be needed in the operations, and late in September he instructed that this iron, as well as grapeshot and cannon balls, be sent to the James River.145 Once Knox saw the scale of the British works at Yorktown, he concluded that the amount of shot and shells that had been provided would be inadequate. He therefore requested the Board of War on 23 September to forward additional supplies to Head of Elk immediately. Since he had stripped Philadelphia of powder as the American troops moved southward, he did not include powder in his request but hoped to get additional supplies from the French fleet.146
Through the exertions of Knox and Washington, the assistance afforded by the states, and the cooperation and aid of the French, the allied army compelled the surrender of Cornwallis and captured a total of 214 pieces of ordnance from the enemy at Yorktown and Gloucester Town. Of these pieces, 140 were iron cannon of different calibers, and 74 were brass cannon and mortars. In addition, it seized a large quantity of military stores.147 Washington was then in a position to give assistance to General Greene and his Southern Army. He sent some of the cannon to that army for use in case the southern states were invaded. At the same time, he ordered a magazine of arms and ammunition established in Virginia under the direction of Edward Carrington, Greene’s deputy quartermaster, for the support of the Southern
143. Ibid., reel 7 (Knox to Washington, 24 Aug 81).
144. Ibid., reel 7 (list of stores, 30 Aug 81; Knox to Bd of War, 31 Aug 81).
145. Ibid., reel 7 (Knox to Gov Thomas Sim Lee, 11 Sep 81; Knox to Hunter, 27 Sep
146. (1) His requisition included 6,000 shot for 18-pounders, 3,000 shot for 24-pounders, 3,000 10-inch shells, and 2,000 8-inch shells. Ibid., reel 7 (Knox to Bd of War, 23 Sep 81). (2) See also Washington Papers, reel 81, ser. 4 (to Bd of War, same date). (3) For an account of the shot and shells expended by the allied army at Yorktown, 9-17 October inclusive, see Knox Papers, LM-39, reel 7.
147. Ibid., reel 7 (summary, 19 Oct 81).
Army.148 As the main Continental army took up its position in the Highlands, it was well provided with ordnance and military stores. Neither army, however, had to mount an active campaign after Yorktown. When peace came to the American states in 1783, problems of procurement gave way to those involving the preservation and storage of ordnance and military stores left on hand with the dissolution of the Continental Army.
148. Ibid., reel 7 (Knox to Carrington, 4 Nov 81); reel 8 (Carrington to Knox, 10 Jan 82).
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