|Flag of the 2nd Connecticut Regiment in the|
To read American history is to be amazed this country ever got started at all. We like to sing the praises of the "Give me liberty or give me death" heroes, but there's a whole lot of evidence that we had a bit of luck. Heroes on our side, for sure. And a noble uphill climb. But no shortage of bungling on the part of the British, either.
Britain's thirteen colonies in America went to war to gain independence from Britain on April 19, 1775, when the British marched into Lexington and Concord and fired "the shot that was heard around the world." The war came officially to a close with the Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, just short of eight and a half years later. The First Continental Congress had organized to kvetch about the way British treated their subjects on the American Continent. They wanted equal rights as Englishmen. By the time of the Second Continental Congress, people were beginning to sense the Brits were not interested in what the complainers in the colonies were going on about, and already thinking of independence. Two months after the war started, in June of 1775, the Congress asked George Washington to organize a continental army. It was clear this was going to be a long haul.
The American Continental Army was divided, for administrative purposes, into the Main Army and six regional departments: Eastern, Northern, Southern, Western, Highlands and Canadian.
Let me tell you about the Second Connecticut Regiment of the Continental Army.
The Second Connecticut Regiment was organized in the first four months of 1777 at Danbury and was made up of eight companies from Fairfield, Windham and Hartford counties (but not my own - Litchfield County).
It was assigned on April 3 of that year to the First Connecticut Brigade of the Highlands Department.
It was then reassigned to McDougall's Brigade two months later, on June 12.
It was then reassigned to the Second Connecticut Brigade three days later, on June 15.
It was then reassigned back to the First Connecticut Brigade one month later, on July 10.
It was then reassigned back to the Second Connecticut Brigade four months later on November 13.
In the following two years, it was first reorganized into nine companies, in July of 1779, then reassigned to the Continental Army on November 16 of that year and reassigned to the Highlands Department the following year, on November 27, 1780.
And that, meine Damen und Herren, is what's known as not having your shit together.
By 1781 Congress had gone bankrupt and could no longer pay the salaries of its soldiers. That didn't affect Commander Washington; he was working for free anyway, but it was a serious problem for the soldiers, most of whom were fighting for the money. A quarter of the army consisted of new Irish immigrants, and they carried with them resentments of British abuses in their home country, and welcomed the opportunity to go off and kill them some redcoats. Also in the army were some 6600 people of color who joined because they were promised, if they did, they would be released from slavery. That included as many as 20% of the Rhode Island Regiment - not because Rhode Island was a more enlightened place necessarily, but because it had the greatest number of slave traders at the time and thus more slaves to take advantage of. For more on blacks in the Continental Army and the role Washington and other leaders played in the decision to enlist them, see here. And here.
The third main group of this all-volunteer army consisted of German immigrants. Armies all over the world are made up of cannon-fodder types, and America was no different. If you've got poor people, you can always raise a volunteer army. Republicans of today should take note of the fact that the country came into being because an army consisting in large part of immigrants and people of color won its independence. And, to be fair, we should all take note of the fact that a good number of African slaves fought for the British as well. Seems they may have been less interested in building an independent America than in not being slaves anymore, for some reason. (That's sarcasm, in case you missed it.)
Because Congress was uncomfortable with the idea of a regular professional army, they had only short contracts and that meant there was a huge turnover, and Washington had his work cut out for him keeping it all together. He managed by some miracle to win several victories even after Congress had voted to cut funding for the army. (Sound familiar? OK, but this time they really had no choice.) Fortunately, the French were donating to the cause and shipped shoes and clothing over to take up some of the slack.
Actually, there were two military forces. In addition to the army, each colony provided a militia, also made up of volunteers. Not as reliable - there were lots of desertions - they complemented the army. And what would be the Second Amendment to the Constitution was intended to assure that these boys would have guns at the ready once the war was done and there would be no need for an American army anymore.
The Second Connecticut Regiment didn't make it all the way to the end of the war in September of 83. It was merged with the 9th Regiment on January 1 of 1781, and furloughed in June of 83, three months before war's end, and permanently disbanded two months after.
So why this focus on the Second Connecticut Regiment?
Because they have this snappy little march to be remembered by.
Or so I thought when I first started this little excursion. In time I discovered that the march was composed by David Wallace Reeves at some point in the middle of the 19th Century and the Second Connecticut Regiment in this case was a regiment of the Connecticut National Guard, if I am not mistaken.
No matter. It was a lot of fun catching up on my New England history. Got a lot of it back in the 1940s growing up in Connecticut. Nice to time travel back there, at least for a day.
And did you notice the "we" in the opening paragraph? I clearly identify with the American revolutionaries even though my ancestors at the time were either on the British side, or too busy harvesting potatoes in Lower Saxony in Germany to care all that much about what was happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Isn't it curious how identity happens?
One last observation. While I go back to my New England roots and consider how ready I am to call this "my" history, consider what this day means to the descendants of the African Americans I referred to in passing. If you haven't heard this already, here's another perspective, one presented by the great-great-great (and maybe another great) grandchildren of Frederick Douglas.