James Haltigan.

The Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies online

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four hours in a dark night, without a single halt or a man left
behind,' they covered sixteen miles and reached the mouth of the
pass that led from the Haverstraw landing through the mountains
to West Point. They stopped at 'Smith's white house,' that stood
between the main branches of Haverstraw Creek.

"With honest pride Wayne wrote to his friend Hugh Sheel
(his brother member of the Friendly Sons), October 2, 1780, to
say: 'When our approach was announced to the general he
thought it fabulous, but when convinced of the reality he received
us like a god, and, retiring to take a short repose, exclaimed:
' "All isi-safe and I again am happy." '

'"The protection of that important place' (West Point),
Wayne adds, 'is committed to my conduct until a proper garrison
arrives. I shall not throw myself into the works, but will dispute
the approaches inch by inch and at the point of the bayonet — de-
cide the fate of the day in the Gorge of the Defiles at every ex-
pense of blood. * * * It is not in our power to command suc-
cess, but it is in our power to produce a conviction to the world
that we deserve it.' "

Although throughout 1780 the greatest exertions were made
to maintain the public credit — the patriotic citizens of Philadelphia
alone subscribing $1,500,000, more than one-third of which was
given by Irishmen — toward the close of the year the value of
Continental money was reduced almost to nothing, and it was


truly said by the officers of the Connecticut Line "that four
months' pay of a private would not purchase a bushel of wheat
and that the pay of a colonel would not buy oats for his horse."

In the South, as we have seen, the patriots were being scat-
tered by the English, and in the North famine threatened to dis-
band the entire army, while everywhere the unrelenting hand of
persecution was most vigorously appUed among the defenseless
people. Yet the patriots had no thought of giving up the strug-
gle, and in the midst of all their hardships they hoped on.

"As the work of vengeance proceeded," writes Michael Do-
heny of this trying period, "death, exile, ruin became the am-
bition of the Americans. There was some yielding — sordid spirits
will be everywhere — but devastation of property and danger to
life were courted as holy charms which great and good men
wooed with prayer. But the highest sacrifice that was offered
to liberty was the gentle advocacy of womanhood. On no occa-
sion during this long and wasting war was patriotism more tested.
The gaiety of the ballroom, so seductive in female eyes, had no
charms for women. Better sphere for them the prison ships;
better exercise stepping on the road to exile. No country where
the life of virtue is so guarded can ever perish. Where fathers,
brothers, husbands, lovers were on exile's way the gentle minis-
ters of freedom blessed them ; where they were doomed to follow
they trod the road of banishment lightly and uncomplainingly.
Fairest source of hope's drawing ! And it never changed after-

That is a high compliment to the men and women of the Rev-
olution, but it is only a just and honest one. No one, not even the
most patriotic American, writes with deeper sympathy for that
noble struggle than Michael Doheny. Though he had never seen
America at the time he wrote his history, his Irish heart naturally
went out to those fighting for liberty and independence m that
great land of which he was afterward destined to become a lead-
ing citizen.

"In this state of affairs," continues Doheny, "British intrigue
found its way into the American camp. Placards uicitmg to
mutiny were circulated among the soldiers. One of tiiem thus
invokes the loyalty of the Irish then serving under Waslungton:
'I am happy in acquainting the old-countrymen that the affairs of
Ireland are fully settled and that Great Britam an<l Ireland are
united as well from interest as from aflfection.' But not then nor
since did the day arrive that saw England and Irclan.l united in
aflfection or interest, and upon that occasion, as many others,
the Irish soldier could remember nothing in connecUon with the


English name save that it was a blight on the destiny of his coun-
try, Hov;^ he acted there and elsewhere it is needless to tell."

Many prejudiced writers have gone to great lengths to be-
little the Irish troops under Washington on account of the so-
called mutiny of the Pennsylvania Line, mainly composed of
Irishmen, which occurred on January i, 1781, This uprising of
the soldiers, as all the events connected with it proves, was not
an exhibition of disloyalty to the American cause, but a revolt
against conditions which could no longer be borne and a movement
to bring those to task who had long neglected their duties as civil
officers of the new government.

The soldiers of the Pennsylvania Line were reduced to a state
of actual starvation and nakedness which no human beings could
stand — a condition repeatedly attested by their officers — and they
had either to die of cold and hunger in their cheerless camp or
speak out in a manner that would make their complaints heard.
They naturally took the latter course, and though it at first as-
sumed the ugly symptoms of a mutiny, it resulted in arousing the
authorities to their duty in a just and peaceful settlement of the
soldiers' claims.

Lossing puts the matter in its proper light and tells the
truth about the conditions which led up to the disturbance. "The
whole movement," he writes, "when all the circumstances are
taken into account, should not be execrated as military rebellion,
for if ever there was just cause for men to lift up their strength
against authority, tiiose mutineers possessed it. They had suffered
every privation during a long and, in many respects, disastrous
campaign, and not a ray of hope appeared in the gloomy future.

"The Pennsylvania Line at that time consisted of about two
thousand men and was stationed at the old camp ground near Mor-
ristown. There was still due them their pay for twelve months,
and nakedness and famine were their daily companions. The of-
ficers had murmured somewhat, and the soldiers took courage and
spoke out boldly. They appointed a sergeant major their com-
mander, and on the evening of the ist of January the whole line,
except a part of three regiments, paraded under arms without of-

"General Wayne was in command of the Pennsylvania troops
and was much beloved by them. He exerted all his influence to
bring them back to duty, but they would not listen to him. On
his cocking his pistol they presented their bayonets to his breast,
saying : 'We respect and love you ; often have you led us into the
field of battle, but we are no longer under your command; we
warn you to be on your guard.'


^ *Wayne appealed to their patriotism ; thev pointed to the im-
positions of Congress. He reminded them of the strength their
conduct would give the enemy ; they exhibited their tattered gar-
ments and emaciated forms. They avowed their willingness to
support the cause of freedom, for it was dear to their hearts, if
adequate provision could be made for their comfort, and declared
their intention to march directly to Philadelphia and demand from
Congress a redress of their grievances. Finding threats and
persuasions useless, Wayne resolved upon a line of policy that
proved efifective. He supplied them with provisions, and, with
Colonels Stewart and Butler — officers whom they greatly re-
spected — marched with them. They reached Princeton on the
3d, and there a committee of sergeants submitted their demands
in writing to Wayne.

"Intelligence of this revolt reached Washington and Sir
Henry Clinton on the same day. The headquarters of the former
were at New Windsor, on the Hudson, just above the Highlands;
of the latter in the city of New York. An American council of
war heartily approved the course pursued by General Wayne,
and Washington, whose patience had often been severely tried by
the tardy movements of Congress, was willing to have that body
aroused to activity by circumstances which should demand im-
mediate and undivided attention.

■'Sir Henry Clinton, mistaking the spirit of the mutineers,
thought to gain great advantage by the event. He dispatched
two emissaries — a British sergeant and a New Jersey Tory named
Ogden — to the insurgents, with a written offer that on laying down
their arms and marching to New York they should receive their
arrearages in hard cash ; that they should be well clothed, have a
free pardon, and be taken under the protection of the British gov-
ernment. Like his masters at home, Sir Henry entirely misap-
prehended the spirit and the incentives to action of the American
soldiers. They were not mercenary nor soldiers by profession,
fighting merely for hire. The protection of their homes, their
wives and little ones, and the defense of holy principles formed
the motive power and the bond of union of the American army,
and the soldier's money stipend was the least attractive <if all
the inducements which urged him to take up arms. Vet. as it
was necessary to his comfort and even his existence, the want of
it afforded a just pretext for the assumption of power delegated to
a few.

"The mutiny was a democratic movement, and. while the
patriot felt justified in using his weapons to redress grievances, he
still looked with horror upon the armed oppressors of his country
and regarded the act and stain of treason, under an} circum-


stances, as worse than the infliction of death. Clinton's proposals
were, therefore, rejected with disdain. 'See, comrades,' said one
of the leaders, 'he takes us for traitors. Let us show him the
American army can furnish but one Arnold, and that America
has no truer friends than we.'

"They immediately seized the emissaries, who, being deliv-
ered, with Clinton's papers, into the hands of Wayne, were tried
and executed as spies, and the reward which had been oflfered for
their apprehension was tendered to the mutin^rs who seized
them. They sealed the pledge of their patriotism by refusing it,
saying: 'Necessity wrung from us the act of demanding justice
from Congress, but we desire no reward for doing our duty to
our bleeding country.'

"Congress appointed a commissioner to confer with the in-
surgent troops at Princeton, and the result was a compliance with
their just demands. Thus terminated, as Thacher remarks, a
most unfortunate transaction, which might have been prevented
had the just complaints of the army received proper attention in
due season."

There is no evidence of treason in that account nor in any
other written by an honest man. The story of the mutiny given
by Spears is substantially the same as the foregoing, but he goes
much further in placing the blame where it properly belongs. He
tells how Wayne had to cut off the tails of the soldiers' coats in
order to cover protruding knees and elbows, and that he had to
beg even for the needles and thread to do so — how he wrote to
President Reed for God's sake to procure the clothing by Christmas
at farthest, and how he warned him that they never stood upon
such perilous ground.

"Half starved, half naked," writes Spears, "with their cloth-
ing gone to pieces, as Wayne had predicted, the men became des-
perate and arose with arms in hand and marched away in solid
column, 1,300 strong. John Adams, in a burst of indignation after
St Clair's flight from Ticonderoga, had said: 'We never shall
be able to defend a post till we shoot a general.' These mutineers
might have said with greater justice: 'We never shall be able to
maintain the nation till we shoot a few politicians.' And if they
had said it their sentiment would have found sympathy in many
breasts even to this day.

"Wayne and his officers supposed that they might march to
Elizabeth and join the British. In this the men were greatly
wronged. They were headed for Philadelphia to argue with Con-
gress. On learning their intention, Wayne, with Colonels Richard
Butler and Walter Stewart, followed the mutineers and remained
with them until the trouble was settled. Under the influence of


these officers the men elected leaders, maintained an astonishing
regularity and discipline, confined and eventually hanged two
emissaries sent among them by the British, and finally came to
an agreement with President Reed, of Pennsylvania.

"At the beginning of the revolt the men had said to Wayne
while they held their bayonets to his breast: 'We love you, we
respect you.' And when the wrongs of the men had been righted
nearly two-thirds of them re-enlisted.

"Neither Congress nor the Pennsylvania Assembly had been
able to find any way to reH^ve the men before the revolt, but
when the two bodies of politicians learned that a column of de-
termined men, 1,300 strong, was on the way to Philadelphia to
ask questions at the point of the bayonet, means for supplying
the unfortunate troops were quickly discovered.

"It seems worth while pointing out that this revolt was an
exercise of what in this day is called lynch law. It is a shocking
fact, but one worth the most serious consideration of every
patriot, that at intervals throughout the entire history of the na-
tion bodies of sober-minded men have felt obliged to openly vio-
late statute law in order to obtain natural rights and do justice.
This statement is not made to defend any form of lynch law, but
to point out a fact that has not received sufficient consideration."

The following account of Lecky also shows that the Irish
troops were thoroughly loyal to America and conducted them-
selves in the most orderly manner while acting independently of
their officers :

"The year 1781, which at last gave a decisive turn to the
American war, began under circumstances very unfavorable to
the American cause, for it opened with by far the most formid-
able mutiny that had yet appeared in the American army. No
troops in that army had shown themselves more courageous, more
patient, and more devoted than the Pennsylvania Line. Its pri-
vates and noncommissioned officers consisted chiefly of immi-
grants from the North of Ireland, and it is remarkable that they
had done good service in suppressing the mutiny of Connecticut
troops in the preceding year. Their pay, however, was a whole
year in arrears. They were left nearly naked and exceedingly
destitute of provisions, and an ambiguity in the terms of their
enlistments gave rise to a fierce dispute. The mutineers kept
together in a disciplined body, elected their own temporary of-
ficers, committed no depredations, and proclaimed their full loy-
alty to the American cause and their readiness, if their grievances
were redressed, to return to their old officers.

"In the weak condition of the American forces such a body,
if it had gone over to the English, might have turned the fortunes


of the war, and Washington was for some time in extreme alarm
lest the contagion should spread through the other regiments,
Sir Henry' Clinton, the English general, sent confidential messen-
gers to the revolted troops and endeavored by large offers to win
them to his side. But the Pennsylvania Line were as steadfast
as ever in their hostility to England, and they not only rejected
the offers that were made to them, but actually arrested the Eng-
lish emissaries and sent them prisoners to the American camp,
where they were tried and hanged as spies. Congress at once
opened a negotiation with the revolted troops and at length in-
duced them to lay down their arms. When a purse of one hun-
dred guineas was offered to those who had delivered up the Brit-
ish emissaries they refused to accept it, alleging that they had
only done their duty."

Washington Irving says that the arrest of the British emis-
saries had a great effect in inspiring hope of the loyalty of the
troops and induced President Reed, of Pennsylvania, an Irish-
American himself, to appear among them. "As he approached
Princeton," writes Irving, "he found guards regularly posted,
who turned out and saluted him in military style. The whole line
was drawn out under arms near the college and the artillery on the
point of firing a salute. He prevented it, lest it should alarm the
country. It was a hard task for him to ride along the line as if
reviewing regular troops, but the sergeants were all in the places
of their respective officers and saluted the President as he passed.
Never were mutineers more orderly and decorous. The circum-
stances connected with the insurrection," concludes Irving, "had
ultimately a beneficial effect on the friends of American liberty
by proving that, however the Americans might quarrel with their
own government, nothing could again rally them ..nder the royal

These true statements of the "mutiny" of the Pennsylvania
Line are sufficient to convince all fair-minded men that there was
no disloyalty toward America in the hearts of its Irish soldiers,
but we will add another from the earnest pen of Matthew Carey,
of Philadelphia, who wrote while the events were fresh and many
of the participants were yet alive to attest his story :

"During the American Revolution a band of Irishmen were
embodied to avenge, in the country of their adoption, the injuries
of the country of their birth. They formed the major part of the
celebrated Pennsylvania Line. They fought and bled for the
United States. Their adopted country was shamefully ungrate-
ful. The wealthy, the indolent, and the luxurious, for whom they
fought, were rioting in all the comforts and superfluities of Ufe.
Their defenders were literally half starved and half naked. Their


shoeless feet marked with blood their tracks on the highway.
They bore their grievances patiently. They at length murmured.
They remonstrated. They implored a supply of the necessities
of life, but in vain. A deaf ear was turned to their complaints.
They felt indignant at the cold neglect, at the ingratitude of that
country for which so many of their companions in arms had ex-
pired on the crimsoned field of battle. They held arms in their
hands. They had reached the boundary line beyond which for-
bearance and submission became meanness and pusillanimity. As
all appeals to the gratitude, the justice and generosity of the coun-
try had proved unavailing, they determined to try another course.
They appealed to its fears. They mutinied. They demanded with
energy that redress for which they had before supplicated. It
was a noble deed. I hope in all similar cases similar measures
will be pursued.

"The intelligence was carried to the British camp. It there
spread joy and gladness. Sir Henry Clinton hoped that a period
had arrived to the 'rebellion,' as it would have been termed. There
was a glorious opportunity of crushing the half-formed embryo
of the republic. He counted largely on the indignation and on
the resentment of the natives of the Emerald Isle. He knew the
irascibility of their tempers. He calculated on the diminution of
the strength of the 'rebels' and the accession to the numbers of
the royal army. Messengers were dispatched to the mutineers.
They had carte blanche. They were to allure the poor Hiber-
nians to return, like prodigal children, from feeding on husks to
the plentiful fold of their royal master. Liberality itself presided
over his offers. Abundant supplies of provisions, comfortable
clothing to their heart's desire, all arrears of pay, bounties and
pardon for past offenses were offered. There was, however, no
hesitation among those poor, neglected warriors. They refused
to renounce poverty, nakedness, suffering, and ingratitude.

"The splendid temptations were held out in vain. There was
no Judas, no Arnold there. They seized the tempters. They
trampled on their shining ore. They sent them to their general's
tent. The miserable wretches paid their forfeited lives for at-
tempting to seduce a band of ragged, forlorn, and deserted but
illustrious heroes. We prate about Roman, about Grecian pa-
triotism. One-half of it is false. In the other half there is noth-
ing that excels this noble trait which is worthy the pencil of a
West or a Trumbull."



After these troubles had been satisfactorily settled the tide
of fortune began to turn in favor of the Americans, though the
South, especially Virginia, had still to suffer from the marauding
forces of the English, and a few minor setbacks had to be endured.

Arnold, now a brigadier in the service of England, set out for
Virginia toward the close of 1780 with a force that he boasted
would shake the continent, but during the voyage his ships were
tempest-tossed and scattered and half of his cavalry horses and
several of his guns had to be thrown overboard.

He opened the new year with a buccaneering ravage, more
ferocious in its nature than any the defenseless Virginians had
experienced before. On January 4 he landed at Westover, about
twenty-five miles below Richmond, and pushed on to that place,
then little more than a village, though the capital of the State.
He there hoped to capture Governor Jefferson, but the latter was
temporarily absent, and Arnold, almost unopposed, burned the
public stores and workshops, with a great quantity of tobacco,
and pillaged the private houses.

After destroying all he could at Richmond, Arnold re-em-
barked at Westover and slowly fell down the James River, land-
ing occasionally to burn, plunder, and destroy, and finally set up
his headquarters at Portsmouth, which he proceeded to fortify.

Virginia, at this time under the command of Baron Steuben,

was in a most defenseless state. The baron was after sending

all the troops he could raise to the aid of General Greene, and the

few that he had left were unable to cope with Arnold, though



he harassed him all he could with the remnant of half-famished
troops at his disposal.

Jefferson wrote to Washington of Arnold's devastation, and
the latter, desirous of checking and punishing the traitor, resolved
to send Lafayette to oppose him with 1,200 men.

At this juncture a disastrous storm scattered the English
fleet blockading Newport, and four of the French ships were en-
abled to proceed to the Chesapeake. This was grateiul news to
Washington, as he had already written Rochambeau making
such a request, and he now hastened the departure of Lafayette,
who set out on his march on February 22, 178 1.

The expedition of the four French ships resulted in failure,
and the French commanders now determined to follow the plan
of Washington and operate in the Chesapeake with their whole
fleet and a detachment of land troops, being disposed to risk every-
thing to prevent Arnold from establishing^ himself at Portsmoutii.

Washington set out for Newport to concert operations with
the French commanders, and when he arrived there on the 6th of
March he found the French ships ready for sea, with 1,100 troops
under General Viomenil already embarked.

, Washington was received with enthusiasm by the French sol-
diers and sailors, and found to his great satisfaction that an ex-
cellent feeling existed between them and the inhabitants of the
town. He had a most cordial interview wkh Rochambeau and
witnessed with great delight the departure of the whole fleet to
the scene of operations in the South.

Washington was once more filled with the highest hopes, but
he was soon doomed to disappointment, for the French fleet met
disaster and were again compelled to return to Newport.

But Washington did not allow himself to remain long cast
down by this check to his high hopes, especially when the safety
of General Greene in the South demanded his attention. Two
thousand English troops had sailed from New York under General
Phillips to join Arnold in Virginia and then form a junction with
Cornwallis. Should this occur Washington foresaw that Greene

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 62 of 67)