IT costs money to raise and equip troops, and money -- that is, good hard cash as opposed to the product of the printing-press -- was very much lacking in the coffers of the Continental Congress. Yet the war had to be fought, and farmers and mechanics induced to enlist by the dangling of bonuses and the prospect of a regular wage. So a vicious system arose. There were plenty of wealthy men in the Colonies -- patriots, it must be understood -- who, while unwilling to be taxed for the sinews of warfare, succumbed readily to the lure of self-glory and the luster of a military title.

Whereupon the privilege was accorded those with ample money-bags to raise regiments at their own expense, and in return, the illustrious name of the donor was forthwith attached to the troop, while the donor himself -- merchant, trader, land speculator, whatnot -- was commissioned a Colonel by a grateful Congress, and placed immediately in command. No wonder a good many of these regiments were slightly less than useful to the harassed commander-in-chief!

William Malcolm -- a worthy, and wealthy merchant of the City of New York -- was one of these. He raised his regiment, was duly commissioned, and behold, Colonel Malcolm's Regiment, completely accoutered and consisting of some 260 men, was ordered to a station on the Ramapo, in New Jersey. But war, even in an encampment, was not all beer and skittles, as the worthy and rotund Colonel soon discovered. In the first place he had taken as his officers the young sons of wealth and influence, and they were not only without any experience in military matters, but resented any interruptions in their former easy-going civilian life. The men in the ranks were the usual bonus hunters, and similarly averse to discipline and the harshness of the army. So that the regiment rapidly grew unmanageable, much to the alarm and inward quakings of its most unwarlike Colonel.

So it was that Major Aaron Burr was suddenly given an opportunity. He had been almost a year with General Putnam as Staff


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Aaron Burr: A Biography


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