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Four

LEARNING TO BE SOLDIERS
1775
T
he incursion into Canada, the patriots rst major offensive expedition,
would prove to be one of the most extraordinary efforts of the entire
war. A critical role in the operation would fall to the itinerant teamster
who had years ago followed Braddock into the Ohio Country and been
ogged for his insolence.
In the summer of 1775, Daniel Morgan had volunteered to join the
rst troops specically recruited for a national army. The hulking Virgin-
ian with the loud, twangy voice and the mad gleam in his eye took com-
mand of one of ten companies of expert riemen. Congress had voted
to raise these continental troops from the backwoods of Virginia, Mary-
land, and Pennsylvania to reinforce the siege around Boston. These wild
outlanders were experienced in frontier war, accustomed to hard living,
and armed with an unusual rearm: the light, long-barreled, frighteningly
accurate, uniquely American Pennsylvania rie.
Now thirty-nine, Morgan was eager to support his brethren in Bos-
ton. Like many of the backwoodsmen, he knew the ways of Indians. His
riemen had a reputation for cunning and savagery that rivaled that of
Americas natives. Congress viewed them as a secret weapon capable of
delivering the British a lethal blow.
After the French war, Morgan had pursued his rowdy life, eager for
ghts, foot races, and bouts of drinking. He merrily joined in backwoods
brawls described as Biting, Butting, Tripping, Throtling, Gouging,
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40 BAND
of
GIANTS
Cursing, and kicking one another on the Cods.
1
The sport proved an
excellent preparation for war.
During his late twenties, Morgan came under the inuence of the
teenage daughter of a local farmer. Contemporaries described Abigail
Curry as plain, sensible, and pious. She passed on some of her education
and her religious sensibility to the gruff backwoodsman. She bore him two
daughters, Nancy and Betsy, during the 1760s, and they nally married in
1773. Daniel went no more a roving. He rented some land in the Shenan-
doah Valley to grow tobacco and hemp, and did well enough as a yeoman
farmer to purchase a few slaves.
The news from Boston reawakened his taste for a ght. Like most
participants, he expected the war to be exciting, successful, and short.
Abandoning his family and farm for a few months seemed a small price to
pay to take part in a drama that might endow its actors with immortality.
Enthusiasm for the cause made recruitment easy. Morgan preached
glory and the rights of man in loud, rough terms that made sense to un-
schooled backwoodsmen. He took his pick of volunteers, selecting the
biggest men, the best marksmen, and the hardiest ghters.
Congress had stipulated companies of sixty-eight menMorgan
signed up ninety-six in less than a week. The men possessed the instincts of
hunters: deep patience, hair-trigger awareness of their surroundings, and
the ability to withstand rain, cold, and hunger. Each was tted out with
a rie and a tomahawk. Each carried a scalping knife, a nine-inch blade
suitable for eating, whittling, or slicing human esh. Instead of a uniform,
the men wore their traditional dun-colored hunting shirts fashioned from
heavy fringed linen, along with leather leggings and moccasins. This gear
was practical and set them apart as the rst of Americas special forces.
Morgan trained his men for three weeks in the rudiments of war as
he understood it. On July 15, they marched toward Boston. Townspeople
turned out to offer them bread, cider, and hearty cheers. Local militiamen
marched alongside to show support. Virginia congressman Richard Henry
Lee marveled at their amazing hardihood, their method of living so long
in the woods without carrying provisions with them.
They are the nest marksmen in the world, John Hancock declared.
They do execution with their Rie guns at an amazing distance. Unlike
a musket, a rie, fully ve feet long, had spiral grooves incised along the
interior of its barrel. The ridges gave the ball a gyroscopic spin, causing it
to y far more accurately than one from a musket. To impress the locals,
one man would condently hold a ve-inch target between his knees for
his mates to re at from forty yards. Then all would strip to the waist,
paint themselves like Indians, and put on displays of ferocity.
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LEARNING TO BE SOLDIERS 41
These intrepid riemen arrived in Cambridge on August 6, 1775,
having tramped a total of nearly six hundred miles in three weeks, an as-
tounding pace. They found themselves in a camp that was suddenly the
third-largest city on the continent. Their arrival created a sensation. Their
rough language mortied the local descendants of Puritans. They demon-
strated the accuracy of their backwoods hunting implements for mystied
New Englanders. John Adams thought a rie a peculiar kind of musket.
As an elite force, the riemen were given a separate bivouac and ex-
cused from routine camp duties. But a month of inaction wore on them.
They drank rum, fought among themselves, and stole from surrounding
farms. They are such a boastful, bragging set of people, an observer
noted, and think none are men or can ght but themselves.
2
When
Washington asked for recruits to invade Canada, every one of them volun-
teered. Morgans Virginians and two Pennsylvania companies were chosen
by lot.
s
Congress had initially assigned the attack on the fourteenth colony to
General Philip Schuyler, commander of the Northern Department. The
forty-two-year-old scion of a powerful Albany family, Schuyler supported
the patriot cause but remained deeply suspicious of the rebels egalitarian
notions. During the war with the French, he had served as a supply ofcer,
a post suited to an experienced businessman.
He agreed to the operation, then he delayed. In August, with the
campaigning season slipping by, Washington turned the Canada inva-
sion into a pincer maneuver. He would send another force north along a
little-used route through Maine to threaten Quebec City while Schuylers
men pushed toward Montreal. The British commander in Canada, Guy
Carleton, would have to divide his meager force or relinquish territory to
defend a single point.
Schuyler nally set out and besieged the British fort at St. Johns that
Arnold had raided in the spring. While the operation was under way,
the commander fell ill with Barbarous Complications of Disorders.
He turned the mission over to his second in command, the former Brit-
ish ofcer Richard Montgomery. The veteran Montgomery questioned
whether Schuyler had the strong nerves required for war.
s
While Montgomerys traditional corps relied on artillery for its heavy hit-
ting, the wing approaching through Maine would embody a new strategic
idea. Relieved of the burden of heavy guns, the force would gain mobility.
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