Hero of Stony Point - James Barnes

Wayne Wins the Disaffected

During the months following the successful assault on Stony Point, Wayne's soldierly qualities were occupied, not in fighting with an armed enemy, but in contending endlessly with official incompetence and negligence, in the vain hope of having his command properly supplied with food and clothing. It seems to have been his evil destiny to be ever embarrassed by these ignoble elements, which, more than hardships, discouraging difficulties, or the opposition of a formidable enemy, served to impede his activities. The nearly unbelievable futility and indifference of the authorities were the only agencies that ever thwarted his dauntless courage. Repeatedly, after earnest, persistent and unselfish efforts in behalf of his men and their welfare, he was obliged to give it up, utterly baffled and discouraged. Even the gallant Light Infantry Corps, whose service at Stony Point had shed a halo of glory on the American arms, were not spared the lofty disdain of the commissary department. Nor did Wayne's indignant protest avail to alter the situation in any particular, Matters progressed in regular order from bad to worse, and by the opening of November, as he reported, one hundred and twenty of his command were shoeless. Nor did this sad condition at all excite official compassion. By the end of December few, if any, of the men had been provided for, as is shown in Wayne's note to Washington on the order of Congress that the Virginia regiment be detached from the Light Infantry Corps and proceed to Philadelphia. His reply was brief and to the point:

"Colonel Febiger will march tomorrow at 8 A. M., but for want of shoes he must carry a great many of his people in wagons."

As if it was the opinion of the authorities that the only way to silence the protests of so persistent a protester as Wayne was to be rid of him, the next move was the disbandment of the corps itself. Accordingly, within four weeks from the departure of Febiger's men, Wayne again found himself without a command_ On February 4, 1780, he wrote to Washington asking that he might be employed in any capacity he might think proper, and then returned to his home in Chester County, Pennsylvania, again compelled to wait patiently and submissively for another opportunity to serve his country with his splendid talents. For nearly fourteen weeks he led the life of a private citizen, presumably caring for his farm and other properties, while waiting eagerly for the summons to return to the service of his country. It came at last, a brief letter from General Washington, containing the strong tribute: "I shall be very happy to see you at camp again, and hope you will, without hesitation, resume your command in the Pennsylvania Line."

Probably Wayne was as happy to be back in camp as was Washington to have him there, but little of importance occurred during the campaign of 1780 that could excite the ardor of even the keenest soldier. Washington's army confined itself principally to watching the movements of the British forces at New York, and to guarding the country between that city and West Point on the north. A few skirmishes occurred, an unsuccessful attack on a British block house—which was celebrated in a series of highly satirical stanzas from the pen of the unfortunate Major Andre—but for the most part mere marchings and counter-marchings, patrolling the country, and awaiting a decisive move by the enemy. Thus, during the summer and early autumn, did the time pass tediously along. Then came a really momentous event, the capture of the same witty and unfortunate Major Andre, and the revelation of Arnold's tremendous treasonous plot, which through Washington's quick action was effectively thwarted. For a time, during the exciting weeks following this event, there was plenty to do in the way of guarding positions and preparing to bead off expected movements of the enemy, but no fighting. In fact, if we may judge by the records of the time, the whole army came near to perishing of simple ennui.

In the midst of the tiresome inaction of the year Wayne experienced all over again the constant annoyances due to the maladministration at the hands of the pompons incompetents who held control of the affairs of his state. There was no improvement worth mentioning in the food problem, nor in the clothing problem, perennially before the eyes of the General. But, added to this, there was a growing spirit of discontent in the Pennsylvania Line, Officers complained that they had not received the recognition and promotions due to their services, nor yet the pay sufficient to the demands of their positions. The men protested that they were sparingly fed, wretchedly clothed—or unclothed—paid only in currency that was either so depreciated as to represent merely a fraction of its face value, or to be utterly worthless in purchasing necessities, and that they were compelled to continue serving long after the expiration of their times of enlistment. Discontent seems to have been still further aggravated by the unwise policy of Congress in appointing to responsible commands men who had seen little or no service in the war, over the heads of seasoned veterans who had worked and suffered unremittingly in the cause of freedom. A notable occasion for protest was the appointment of a certain William Macpherson, a native of Philadelphia, and at the beginning of the Revolution an adjutant in the British service, to the rank of major by brevet. This was in 1779, hut in the following year the folly was consummated by the detailing of this officer to the Pennsylvania Line with his brevet rank. The result was that the officers of the Line, with an almost complete unanimity, threatened to resign from the service, and letters of protest were addressed by Wayne and Irvine to General Washington. Macpherson himself seems to have been as unwise and precipitate as his sponsors, for be took part in the controversy by addressing a semi-contemptuous letter to Wayne, bidding him, in effect, to "keep his hands off." The matter was finally settled only by discontinuing the formation of the new Light Infantry Corps, to which Macpherson had been appointed.

All such occasions of discontent led finally to the famous and dramatic incident known as the "Revolt of the Pennsylvania Line." Wayne

himself, fully aware of the justness of the protests on nearly every point, was keenly apprehensive of the consequences that must follow persistent inaction, when, on the first of January, 1781, the enlistments of most of his men were due to expire. According to his habit, he wrote letters of warning, protest and advice to President Reed of Pennsylvania, and others who should have helped him in the extremity, had they so chosen. To Reed he writes: Our soldiers are not devoid of reasoning faculty, nor callous to the first feelings of nature. They have now served their country for nearly five years with fidelity, poorly clothed, badly fed, and worse paid. I have not seen a paper dollar in the way of pay for more than twelve months."

When, even at this crisis, the inertia of the Government could not be neutralized, private philanthropy took up the cause of the soldiers. Several prominent ladies of Philadelphia, under the leadership of Mrs. Sarah Bathe, wife of Richard Bache, then postmaster-general, and the only daughter of Benjamin Franklin, purchased cloth and superintended the manufacture of the sorely needed and much-asked-for clothing. Mrs. Bache collected large sums for this cause by personal solicitation among her wealthy friends, and at one time had as many as 2,200 women constantly at work sewing on the clothing thus paid for. But, as is too often the case with philanthropic efforts, these services were rendered too late to prevent the final grand explosion of the fury that had been smoldering for months in the breasts of the suffering soldiers.

The storm broke on the evening of January 1, 1781, when the men of the Pennsylvania Line, almost without exception, rushed from their squalid quarters, formed under arms on the parade ground, disarmed, although without animosity, disregarded all officers who attempted to interfere with their lawless movements, and proceeded to possess themselves of ammunition, food supplies, horses, and other desirable equipments, including two pieces of artillery. Wayne, accustomed to quelling mutinies, and given to measures of severe discipline, even when in full sympathy with his men, rushed forward fearlessly, pistol in hand, and ordered an immediate dispersal. The only answer to his command was the presentation of a dozen bayonets at his breast and the stern words of the mutineers' spokesman:

"We love you, we respect you, but you are a dead man if you fire! Do not mistake us: we are not going to the enemy; on the contrary, were they now to come out, you would see us fight under your orders with as much resolution and alacrity as ever." The mutineers then broke camp, and started on their march to Philadelphia, carrying along with them, although without compulsion, General Wayne himself, and Colonels Richard Butler and Walter Stewart. The southward march was attended by no acts of lawlessness or depredation, and was made, as one contemporary has said, "with an astonishing regularity and discipline."

To the inhabitants of Philadelphia, especially to the members of Congress, awake at last to the consequences of their persistent neglect of the faithful soldiers fighting for freedom, the day of reckoning seemed at hand. Even Washington, who was prevented solely by the necessities of his position from taking severe measures to quell the insurgents, seems to have considered the affair as of the utmost significance. He wrote, some weeks later:

"The weakness of this garrison, and still more its embarrassment and distress from want of provisions, made it impossible to prosecute such measures with the Pennsylvanians as the nature of the ease demanded, and while we were making arrangements, as far as practicable, to supply these defects, an accommodation took place which will not only subvert the Pennsylvania Line, but have a very pernicious influence upon the whole army."

The British authorities were, of course, elated at the "revolt," and confidently expected that the mutineers would quickly come over to their lines. Indeed, messengers were sent to meet them from Sir Henry Clinton's camp near Elizabethtown, New Jersey, offering them most favorable terms to join the British army. The messengers were roughly handled, and confined as spies, while their letters were brought to Wayne himself, with full assurance that, in the event of an attack, they would submit to his command, in order to sufficiently punish those who had suspected them capable of "becoming Arnolds," as their saying was.

Wayne must have been perfectly well aware that the aims of his disaffected troops included no designs for treasons or treacherous violence. But the members of Congress were painfully apprehensive lest they should occupy the city of Philadelphia, and compel the passage of laws for the relief of their distress; they could not disabuse their minds of the conviction that the affair would result in bloodshed. Consequently, a committee, including President Joseph Reed himself, was delegated to meet the soldiers at some point distant from the city, and to treat with them upon their demands. On the way most of the committee lost courage to face these men whom, in their swollen pride, they had contemptuously neglected for so long a period, and Reed, who seems to have had the virtue of courage to offset any defects in his character, proceeded alone to meet the men in their camp near Princeton. Hera conferences were held, the demands of the soldiers seriously considered, and the whole affair concluded by a tardy justice, on the one hand, and a loyal submission to authority, on the other.

In their final form, the agreements were:

  1. No more enforced service after the expiry of terms of enlistment; also an immediate discharge for all who enlisted under compulsion.
  2. The appointment of a board to pass on the question whether an enlistment was for three years only, or for the period of the war.
  3. The acceptance of the $100 bounty from Congress on reenlistment not to constitute evidence of enlistment for the whole war.
  4. Auditors to be appointed at once to settle the matter of soldiers' pay.
  5. Clothing for all men found entitled to a discharge.
  6. General amnesty and oblivion.

The result of the examination made by the Commission is well expressed in a letter from Wayne to General Washington, as follows:

"The Commissioners of Congress have gone through the Settlements of enlistments of the Pennsylvania Line, except a few stragglers, and have ordered about 1,250 men to be discharged out of the aggregate of the infantry (2,400 men), and 67 of the artillery, so that we may count upon nearly 1,150 remaining."

Later he wrote:

"We shall retain more than two-thirds of the troops. The soldiers are as impatient of liberty as they were of service."

Beyond doubt, Wayne's presence with the mutineers restrained them from such acts of violence as the less worthy among them might have counseled. The love and respect of his soldiers for him personally—although some complained bitterly that "they had experienced more restraint and strict duty than usual in winter"—undoubtedly led them to submit willingly, after their indubitable wrongs had been righted. Washington was not tardy in recognizing these facts. Indeed, he wrote in a letter to Wayne, at the conclusion of the affair:

"I am satisfied that everything was done on your part to produce the least possible evil from the unfortunate disturbance in your line, and that your influence has had a great share in preventing worse extremities. I felt for your situation. Your anxieties and fatigues of mind amidst such a scene I can easily conceive. I thank you sincerely for your exertions."