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Authors: Bruce Chadwick

The First American Army

BOOK: The First American Army
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Also by Bruce Chadwick

George Washington’s War

Brother Against Brother

Two American Presidents

Traveling the Underground Railroad

The Reel Civil War

“Bruce Chadwick reminds us that the Revolution was fought and won by men without general’s stars or officers’ commissions. It’s good to see how much ordinary Americans cared about liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

—Thomas Fleming, author of
The American Revolution

“Although wars are fought by soldiers, they are usually described by historians writing about generals. This book puts first things first: the story of the Revolutionary War is told as it was experienced by the soldiers who waged it, those unsung patriots whose souls were tried by battle, privation, and disease. It is a look through the other end of the telescope, giving new meaning to such words as sacrifice and courage and perseverance. To understand the war, really understand it, read this book.”

—Dave R. Palmer, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army (Ret), Author of
The Way of the Fox, The River and the Rock, Summons of the Trumpet, 1794, First in War,
Washington and Arnold

The First American Army
is a most laudable and successful effort to put faces and personalities to some of the men at the knife’s edge of the Continental Army. …The author tells the stories of some long-forgotten soldiers whose individual achievements might appear small, but collectively comprised our army of independence. Through the use of anecdotes and excellent quotations from the writings of the soldiers themselves, he brings their characters to life and helps appreciate the intense sufferings and also some of the pleasures of life in the army.

“Dr. Chadwick brings clarity to a neglected, but absolutely vital, dimension of the Revolutionary War: why men choose to endure year after year of often bitter and frustrating army life. While the desertion rate among patriot soldiers was high, the fact that so many soldiers stayed and did their duty despite poor or non-existent food, clothing, and pay, reflects the remarkable commitment they had to achieving independence. Their steadfast faith and service in the cause never fails to evoke my admiration and respect.”

—Joseph Lee Boyle, Author of
Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment of the Continental Army, December 19, 1777–June 19, 1778

Copyright © 2007 by Bruce Chadwick
Cover and internal design © 2005 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Cover photo © Corbis.
Internal permissions © as indicated
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

Published by Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
(630) 961-3900
FAX: (630) 961-2168

The hardcover edition was previously cataloged as:

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Chadwick, Bruce.

The first American army : the untold story of George Washington and the men behind America’s first fight for freedom / Bruce Chadwick.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN-13: 978-1-4022-0753-2

1. United States. Continental Army--Military life. 2. Washington, George, 1732-1799. 3. Washington, George, 1732-1799--Friends and associates. 4. Soldiers--United States--Social conditions--18th century. 5. United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Social aspects. I. Title.

E259.C43 2005


Printed and bound in the United States of America

VP 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2




For the brave men and women in the military forces of the United States of America

“The rising world shall sing of us a thousand years to come,
And tell our children’s children the wonders we have done.”

—song written by a soldier of the Second New York Regiment


Author to Reader

Chapter 1: Bunker Hill: The Arrival of Private John Greenwood, Age Fifteen, Fifer

Chapter 2: The Siege of Boston, 1775–1776: Private Greenwood Joins an Armed Camp

Chapter 3: Camp Life

Chapter 4: Mother and Son Reunion

Chapter 5: The Soldiers

Chapter 6: Why They Fought


March to Quebec

Chapter 7: Private Jeremiah Greenman and Benedict Arnold

Chapter 8: Jeremiah Greenman: Prisoner of War

Chapter 9: A Harrowing Retreat

Chapter 10: The Healers: The Reverend, the Doctor, and the Smallpox Scourge

Chapter 11: Death Becomes a Daily Visitor

Chapter 12: The Compassionate Minister and the Enraged Doctor


Chapter 13: Christmas, 1776: Private John Greenwood Crosses the Delaware

Chapter 14: The Victory That Saved the Revolution

Chapter 15: New Jersey and Pennsylvania, 1777–1778: Lieutenant James McMichael: A Poet Goes to War

Chapter 16: Women of the Revolution

Chapter 17: Saratoga, 1777: The Arduous Journey of Sergeant Ebenezer Wild, Nineteen


Valley Forge

Chapter 18: The Harsh Road to a Winter Camp

Chapter 19: Private Elijah Fisher and the Agony of Valley Forge

Chapter 20: “The soldiers of our army are almost naked Lieutenant James McMichael: The Poet

Chapter 21: Private Elijah Fisher Joins Washington’s Elite Life Guard, 1778


Chapter 22: Monmouth, 1778: Captain Sylvanus Seely’s Militia Goes to War

Chapter 23: The Secret Life of Captain Seely

Chapter 24: Spring 1778: The African American Soldiers

Chapter 25: The Heroism of the Black Rhode Island Regiment

Chapter 26: John Greenwood, Privateer

Chapter 27: 1779–1780: The War’s Worst Winter and Mutiny

Chapter 28: Springfield: The Militia Saves the Revolution

Chapter 29: 1781: Victory at Yorktown







he American Revolution may have been highlighted by the inspirational writing of Thomas Paine, the patriotism of the delegates to the Continental Congress, and the leadership of George Washington, but it was won by the enlisted men of the Continental Army over eight years of fighting against one of the greatest military forces in the world. It was not only their bravery under intense fire on battlefields at Trenton, Saratoga, and Yorktown that won the war, but their courage in simply staying together as an army through incredibly severe winters, smallpox epidemics, tattered clothes, and near-starvation that gained independence for America.

There have been many books written about George Washington and other generals in the rebellion and volumes about the key battles of the conflict. There have been lengthy biographies about important political figures of the revolutionary period such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. But there have been very few works written about the ordinary soldiers of the Continental Army, America’s first army, especially the enlisted men, the original grunts.

The First American Army
is an effort to tell the story of the Revolution through the eyes of the common soldiers, not the generals. It is the story of eight men and their travails. Four of them—Elijah Fisher, John Greenwood, Ebenezer Wild of Massachusetts, and Jeremiah Greenman of Rhode Island—were enlisted men. I added a lieutenant, Pennsylvania’s James McMichael, because he was a poet whose patriotic stanzas added much to the story. I selected a feisty thirty-five-year-old county militia captain, Sylvanus Seely of New Jersey, to explain the role of the militia units. I added a chaplain, the Reverend Ammi Robbins of Connecticut, and a physician, Dr. Lewis Beebe of Massachusetts, so that the reader could understand the spiritual and medical sides of the war.

Finding the men was not easy. Many generals and officers kept journals throughout the war, but few enlisted men wrote down their thoughts for posterity. Most of the enlisted men who did keep journals filled them with rather bland entries (“It rained . . .”). Very few infantrymen fought for more than one year, either, and I needed people who spent several years in the army to tell a complete story. I spent a long summer looking for ghosts of the American Revolution. I was lucky and found the extraordinary soldiers whose lives fill these pages. Only the diaries of Greenwood and Greenman were published in book form. Most of the others were published as magazine articles, some over one hundred years ago. Seely’s journal was never published.

BOOK: The First American Army
3.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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