Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIII
Continental Army

IT was the army which bore the brunt of the inflation and the exactions of the profiteers. Wherever the army went, said General Henry Knox, prices were raised in order to effect as speedy a transfer as possible of the soldiers' pay into the pockets of the civilians. This phenomenon was observed first in New England, then in New York and Pennsylvania, and finally in Virginia. Let the army but appear on the scene, and watch prices skyrocket! "How unmercifully We poor Strangers are flead alive by the people of this country," exclaimed General Steuben in Virginia. By the summer of 1776, prices had risen to such a degree that General Knox declared that the soldiers' pay would not afford them decent clothing and there was "nothing to remit to their families except they go as ragged as beggars."

Shoddy merchandise which could not be sold elsewhere was unloaded upon the army -- no doubt upon the principle that the army was fortunate to get anything whatever. On Arnold's expedition to Quebec, for example, the boats were found to be so poorly made that they swamped and ruined most of the provisions. "Could we have then come within reach of the villains, who constructed these crazy things," exclaimed one of Arnold's men, "they would fully have experienced the effects of our vengeance. . . . Avarice, or a desire to destroy us, perhaps both, must have been their motives -- they could have had none else. . . . These men could enjoy the sweets of domestic ease, talk about liberty and the rights of mankind, possibly without even a recollection of their parricidal guilt." In 1776, incensed by the profiteering of New Englanders, the soldiers in reprisal cut down the fine groves of Cambridge and threatened to pull down the houses. General Steuben would not have stopped at these lengths; "I believe that in order to reconcile Heaven to us we should begin by hanging

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