the terrible early days of war -- 7/5/21
Today's selection -- from The Golden Voyage: The Life and Times of William Bingham, 1752-1804 by Robert C. Alberts. In the late summer and fall of 1776, after the war for independence had moved to New York, the news turned bad. Maryland, it was rumored, was ready to renounce the Declaration of Independence:
"The news [in the summer and fall of 1776] was all bad. General Washington had suffered defeats at Brooklyn Heights and White Plains. Fort Washington on the Hudson fell, almost 3000 men laying down their arms and surrendering an enormous amount of equipment. Retreating through New Jersey, Washington called upon the farmers and villagers to scorch the earth before the invaders; instead, they welcomed the British troops as liberators. He retreated to the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River with the remnant of a broken army and there swore he would retire beyond the Alleghenies if necessary to wage warfare from behind the mountain barrier. …
"With one reversal following hard on another, the fine patriotic fervor that had brought a rush of volunteers to the colors a year earlier diminished, and Washington now had an army of fewer than 6000 poorly armed and provisioned men. The State of Maryland, according to rumor, was ready to renounce the Declaration of Independence and ask for terms with the British. John Dickinson was urging negotiations for peace 'before we suffer indescribable calamities.'
"Philadelphia was in turmoil. Civil government ceased to exist.
"The military took over and removed the public stores from the city. The newspapers stopped publishing. Congress fled to Baltimore, leaving Robert Morris to run the government. The lawmakers had only recently voted down Washington's plea for a standing army with three-year enlistments; now they overcame their fear of professional military men, their preference for one-year enlistments and their devotion to the state militia. They gave Washington virtually dictatorial powers for the next six months."