Item of the Day: New Travels through North-America (1784)

Full Title: New Travels through North-America: In a Series of Letters; Exhibiting the History of the Victorious Campaign of the Allied Armies, under His Excellency General George Washington and the Count de Rochambeau, in the Year 1781. Interspersed with political and philosophical Observations, upon the genius, temper, and customs of the Americans: Also, Narrations of the capture of General Burgoyne, and Lord Cornwallis, with their Armies; and a variety of interesting particulars, which occurred in the course of the War in America. Translated from the Original of the Abbe Robin: One of the Chaplains to the French Army in America. Boston: Printed by E. E. Powars and N. Willis, for F. Battelle, and to be sold by him, at his Book Store, State-Stree, M,DCC,LXXXIV.

[Excerpted from Letter III.]

Camp, at Philipsbourg, August 4, 1781.

. . . Such are the ideas that arise in the mind, at the sight of this great man [George Washington], in examining the events in which he has had a share, or in listening to those whose duty obliges them to be near his person, and consequently can best display his true character. —In all these extensive states, they consider him in the light of a beneficent God, dispensing peace and happiness around him. —Old men, women and children, press about him when he accidentally passes along, and think themselves happy, once in their lives, to have seen him–they follow him through the towns with torches, and celebrate his arrival by public illuminations. —The Americans, that cool and sedate people, who in the midst of their most trying difficulties, have attended only to the directions and impulses of plain method and common reason, are roused, animated and inflamed at the very mention of his name; and the first songs that sentiment or gratitude has dictated, have been to celebrate General Washington.

It is uncertain how many men his army consists of exactly: some say, only four or five thousand, but this General has always found means to conceal the real number, even from those who compose it.  Sometimes with a few troops he forms a spacious camp, and increases the number of tents; at other times with a great number, he contracts it to a narrow compass; then again by detaching them insensibly, the whole camp is nothing more than the mere skeleton and shadow of an army, while the main body is transported to a distant part of the country.

Neither do these troops in general wear regular uniforms; but the officers and corps of artillery are obliged, without exception, to such distinction. Several regiments have small white frocks, with fringes, which look well enough; also linen over-alls, large and full, which are very convenient in hot weather, and do not at all hinder the free use of the limbs in marching: with food less substantial, and a constitution of body less vigorous than our people, they are better able to support fatique, and perhaps for that very reason. This advantage in dress, I believe, has not been sufficiently considered in France. We are apt to consult the gratification of the eye too far, and forget the troops were designed to act, and not merely to show themselves and their finery. The most proper apparel would be that, which being as little burdensome as possible, would cover the soldier best, and incommode him the least. The regiment of Soissonnais has in all this tedious march, had the fewest stragglers and sick of any other; –one of the principal causes was, without doubt, the precautionof the Colonel, who, on purpose for the campaign, had linen breeches made for his whole regiment.

The American military habit, although easy to be soiled, is nevertheless very decent and neat; this neatness is particularly observable among the officers: to see them, you would suppose they were equipped with every necessary in the compleatest manner, and yet upon entering their tents, where perhaps three or four reside together, I have often been astonished to find, that their whole travelling equipage and furniture would not weigh forty pounds; few or none have matrasses; a single rug or blanket, stretched out upon the rough bark of a tree, serves them for a bed; the soldeirs take the same precaution never to sleep on the ground, whilst ours prefer it to any other way.

Their manner of living is very simple, and gives them but little trouble; they content themselves with boiling their meat, and parching their corn, or baking unleavened dough, made of Indian meal, upon the hot embers.

In some regiemnts they have negro companies, but always commanded by the whites. . . .

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Filed under 1780's, American Revolution, Continental Army, Military, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Washington

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