Year
1776

Congress pleads for soldiers

On this day in 1776, Congress pleads for the states to send more soldiers to serve in the Continental Army, reminding them “how indispensable it is to the common safety, that they pursue the most immediate and vigorous measures to furnish their respective quotas of Troops for the new Army, as the time of service for which the present Army was enlisted, is so near expiring.”

Just as the British had discovered the difficulties of waging war with obstreperous Yankees for soldiers during the Seven Years’ War, Commander in Chief George Washington, the Virginia planter-cum-soldier, was unimpressed upon meeting his supposed army outside Boston in 1775. He saw “stupidity” among the enlisted men, who were used to the easy familiarity of being commanded by neighbors in local militias with elected officers. Washington promptly insisted that the officers behave with decorum and the enlisted men with deference. Although he enjoyed some success with this original army, the New Englanders went home to their farms at the end of 1775, and Washington had to start fresh with new recruits in 1776. Washington and Congress struggled to reconstitute the army at the beginning of each new year throughout the war.

Washington fought an uphill battle for military order until Friedrich von Steuben arrived at the Continental Army encampment at Valley Forge on February 23, 1778. The Prussian military officer commenced training soldiers in close-order drill, instilling new confidence and discipline in the demoralized Continental Army. Before von Steuben’s arrival, colonial American soldiers were notorious for their slovenly camp conditions. Von Steuben insisted on reorganization to establish basic hygiene, ordering that kitchens and latrines be put on opposite sides of the camp, with latrines facing a downhill slope. Just having latrines was a novelty to the Continental troops, who were accustomed to living in their own filth.

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