« AnteriorContinuar »
partment. A fixed salary in the depreciated currency of the country was given to the commissary general, and he was authorised to appoint a certain number of deputies, whose stipends were also established, and no emolument of office was allowed. Deputies competent to the business could not be obtained upon the terms established by Congress, confusion and derangement ensued through the whole department, and in consequence Colonel Wadsworth was constrained to resign his office.
Before the month of January expired, the soldiers were put upon allowance, and before its close, the whole stock of provision in store was exhausted, and there was neither meat nor flour to be distributed to the troops. To prevent the dissolution of the army, the Commander in Chief was reluctantly driven to very vigorous measures. He apportioned upon each county in the state of New Jersey a quantity of meat and flour, according to the ability of each, to be brought into camp in the course of six days. At the same time he wrote to the magistrates, stating the absolute necessity of the measure, and informing them, that unless the inhabitants voluntarily complied with the requisition, the exigency of the case would force him to obtain it by military exaction.
To the honour of the inhabitants of New Jersey, harassed as their country had been, the full quantity of provision required was cheerfully and seasonably afforded.
To Congress General Washington expressed his sense of the heroic patience with which the
troops bote the privations of clothing and provia sions through this winter of unusual severity. The extent of these privations will be seen in an extract of a letter written by the Commander in Chief to his friend General Schuyler,
“ Since the date of my last we have had the virtue and patience of the army put to the severest trial. Sometimes it has been five or six days together without bread; at other times, as many days without meat; and once or twice, two or three days, without either. I hardly thought it possible at one period, that we should be able to keep it together, nor could it have been done, but for the exertions of the magistrates in the several counties of this state, on whom I was obliged to call, expose our situation to them, and in plain terms declare that we were reduced to the alter
native of disbanding or catering for ourselves, x unless the inhabitants would afford us their aid.
I allotted to each county a certain proportion of flour or grain, and a certain number of cattle, to be delivered on certain days, and for the honour of the magistrates, and good disposition of the people, I must add, that my requisitions were punctually complied with, and in many counties exceeded. Nothing but this great exertion could have saved the army from dissolution or starving, as we were bereft of every hope from the commissaries. At one time, the soldiers eat every kind of horse food but hay. · Buck wheat, common wheat, rye, and Indian corn composed the meal which made their bread. As an army they bore it with the most heroic patience; but sufferings like these, accompanied with the want of clothes, blankets, &c. will produce frequent desertion in all armies, and so it happened with us, though it did not excite a single mutiny."
The frost of this winter was excessive. For six weeks together, the waters about New York were covered with ice, of sufficient thickness to admit the passage of large armies with waggons and the heaviest pieces of artillery. The city, of consequence, in many places, became assailable. The vigilant and active mind of General Washington, with mortification, saw an opportunity to attack his enemy which he was unable to embrace. The British force in New York, in numbers, exceeded his own, and the want of clothing and provision rendered it impossible to move his troops upon an extensive enterprise. An attempt to surprise a post, on Staten Island failed.
A novel state of things was in consequence introduced. Congress, the head of the nation, had no command of the resources of the country. The power of taxation, and of every coercive measure of government, rested with the state sovereignties. The only power left with the national council was, to apportion supplies of provision for the army, as well as recruits of men, upon the several states.
The military establishment for 1780, consisted of thirty-five thousand, two hundred and eleven men. No portion of these was to be raised by the authority of Congress, but in the whole transaction an absolute dependence was placed on the agency of the states. Upon the states also spe
cific articles of provision, spirits and forage were · apportioned for the subsistence of the army. Congress gave assurances that accurate accounts should be kept, and resolved, “ That any state which shall have taken the necessary measures for furnishing its quota, and have given notice thereof to Congress, shall be authorised to prohibit any continental quarter master, or commissary from purchasing within its limits."
General Washington greatly lamented the necessity of managing the war by state authorities. He freely suggested to Congress the defects of their system, defects which would prevent the attainment of competent and seasonable supplies for the troops. The estimate, he observed, in all articles was below the ordinary demand, the time of reception was left in a vague manner; and no provision was made for extraordinary'exigencies.