Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
Supply

THE American colonies embarked upon what proved to be a seven years' war deficient in every necessity for carrying on a prolonged struggle -- guns, ammunition, flints, artillery, steel for bayonets, clothing and blankets, to name only a few of the more conspicuous shortages. Lacking tents, soldiers were obliged to endure exposure to wind and weather; nails were often unobtainable; anchors could not be cast for want of coal; and so acute was the shortage of cartridge paper that General Gates instructed his troops upon one occasion to tear up old books for that purpose. Americans outdid even the British in jumping into war ungirded and unready, armed chiefly with a sense of righteousness and illimitable self-confidence. At the time of the battle of Lexington, for example, there were only ten tons of gunpowder in the entire colony of Rhode Island; and by June 1775, one hundred pounds of powder could not be purchased in New York City at any price.

It was a question whether the rebellion would first collapse because of lack of powder or because of lack of guns. The cry "Oh, that we had plenty of powder!" was closely followed by the plea "For God's sake, let us have arms!" But Heaven remained noncommittal to these appeals. In February 1776, with two thousand men in his army lacking guns, Washington besought his generals to collect every available musket and send it to Boston; but in truth the generals had not enough guns for their own needs. In 1776, the New York Convention ordered one thousand guns for its troops: it received less than twenty-five. General Sullivan asked for one thousand muskets: he found only one solitary musket in the magazines. It was vain to appeal to Congress: in August 1775, Benjamin Franklin had watched the last wagonload of powder in the possession of the Con-

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