I have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier
From the Journals of the Continental Congress, Wednesday, June 14, 1775:
“Resolved, That six companies of expert rifflemen, be immediately raised in Pensylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia; that each company consist of a captain, three lieutenants, four serjeants, four corporals, a drummer or trumpeter, and sixty-eight privates.
That each company, as soon as compleated, shall march and join the army near Boston, to be there employed as light infantry, under the command of the chief Officer in that army.
That the pay of the Officers and privates be as follows, viz. a captain @ 20 dollars per month; a lieutenant @ 13 1/3 dollars; a serjeant @ 8 dollars; a corporal @ 7 1/3 dollars; drummer or [trumpeter] Trucks & Moreoll.; privates @ 6 2/3 dollars; to find their own arms and cloaths.
That the form of the enlistment be in the following words: I have, this day, voluntarily enlisted myself, as a soldier, in the American continental army, for one year, unless sooner discharged: And I do bind myself to conform, in all instances, to such rules and regulations, as are, or shall be, established for the government of the said Army.
Upon motion, Resolved, That Mr. [George] Washington, Mr. [Philip] Schuyler, Mr. [Silas] Deane, Mr. [Thomas] Cushing, and Mr. [Joseph] Hewes be a committee to bring in a dra’t of Rules and regulations for the government of the army.”
So began the armed forces of our country. George Washington later convinced Congress to extend the term of enlistment to three years with the option to continue service until the end of the war. Washington preferred enlisted soldiers to those who volunteered in the militia because he could count on his soldiers to remain in battle. He also valued their discipline and commitment.
Who were the soldiers of the Continental Army? With more than 175,000 men serving at one point or another during the Revolution, it is difficult to paint a picture of the “typical solider.” Additionally, the interest in and time devoted to record keeping 200 years ago was far different than it is today. With all of that said, here are some facts that are known about those who served in the Continental Army. Many soldiers were as young as 15, but men as old as 60 were also allowed to enlist. Often the second, third, or fourth son enlisted in hopes that the oldest male in the family would survive to inherit property. Many were poor and possessed few employable skills, but there records indicate that some men of means fought as well. Indentured servants or apprentices sometimes served instead of their masters. Others enlisted after being paid a “bonus” to do so. British deserters sometimes enlisted to prove their allegiance. A large number of German and Irish immigrants joined the ranks of enlisted men. It is estimated that 5,000 black men, free or enslaved, were of service as well.
It is easier to describe the sacrifice made by the soldiers of the Continental Army because those records have survived. 1,500 men simply disappeared. 8,000 others were seriously wounded. More than 25,000 men died from injuries on the battle field, communicable diseases, or as a result of being held by the British. The soldiers who survived were often hungry, in need of clothing, or lived on the promise that what was owed to them would be paid at time in the future. When they were paid, it was often with Continental dollars or land in unsettled territory such as the Ohio Valley. Yet, it is because of these men that our country exists today. It is hard to imagine how many of them endured such suffering except for the belief that they would someday enjoy individual sovereignty after the relief from governmental tyranny.
Both the characteristics and lifestyle of soldiers, from those in the Continental Army to the men and women who serve today, have long been romanticized in print and visual media. It is more tolerable for those of us who have not stood in their shoes to paint a rosy picture of their lives than to come to grips with the sacrifices they have made for us. Suffice it to say the life of a soldier is difficult and unrelenting. We owe our freedom to each person who made the choice to put aside common comfort in hopes of serving the greater good. The attached image is of a World War II poster which honored the history of service by those in the armed forces.
Please take a moment to reflect on those brave soldiers who defeated the British more than 200 years ago, those who stormed the beach in Normandy, and the men and women who assure our liberty today. They are at the heart of What IS Right With America.
Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.