When you last tuned in, Captain Samuel Richards, of the 3rd Connecticut Regiment, provided an officer’s prospective on just happened as his soldiers attempted a mutiny. You can find Part 1 here.
What follows is the rest of the story...
“Another season of starvation occurred: while remaining in New Jersey. For several days previous to the 25th of May the rations were curtailed; and then entirely suspended. On that day two Connecticut regiments – Wyllys’ [3rd CT] & Miegs’ [6th CT] appeared paraded under arms without an officer to head them, and directed in their movements by serjeants: Their movements had been silent until then. The officers all sprang out and enquiring the object of their movement and their designs; they replied thro’ a leading serjeant, that their sufferings had become so great they could endure them no longer, and were determined to quit the service and return home: adding that from the commencement of the year they had received neither pay nor clothing, and now provision failed.
Col. Meigs who was a favorite of the soldiers – having his sword drawn – moved near to the serjeant, who was the speaker, and commanded him to fall into the ranks and return with the men to quarters; on this the serjeant leveled his gun with the bayonet fixed towards Col. M. [Colonel Meigs] saying their resolution was formed and they should not recede from it….[after this confrontation] A short season of calm ensued and the officers assured the men that if they would quietly return to their duty, and their pressing wants were not supplied by a given day, they – the officers – would not attempt to prevent their dispersing. The officers then retired and by midday all was apparently quiet.
A brigade of Pennsylvania troops lay near us, and one of the officers – a Mr. Stevenson –[Col. Walter Stewart] came to us and remained with us until the disorder had subsided. I presume his object was to watch our motions and report to his line, that they might pursue such measures as the case might require. The situation of the officers was very painfull; themselves being in the same state of privation with the men, but pressed by motives of duty and honor to preserve discipline, and knowing that the demands of the men were just they still had to perservere in the performance of their own duty.”
Image below: Colonel Walter Stewart as painted by Charles Wilson Peale.
Private Joseph Plumb Martin’s account was more detailed and provided the soldiers’ perspective:
“We had borne as long as human nature could endure, and to bear longer we considered folly. Accordingly, one pleasant day, the men spent the most of their time upon the parade, growling like soreheaded dogs. At evening roll call they began to show their dissatisfaction by snapping at the officers and acting contrary to their orders. After their dismissal from the parade, the officers went, as usual, to their quarters, except the adjutant, who happened to remain, giving details for next day’s duty to the orderly sergeants, or some other business, when the men, none of whom had left the parade began to make him sensible that they had something in train. He said something that did not altogether accord with the soldier’s ideas of propriety, one of the men retorted; the adjutant called him a mutinous rascal, or some such epithet, and then left the parade. This man, then stamping the butt of his musket upon the ground, as much as to say, I am in a passion, called out, ‘Who will parade with me?’ The whole regiment immediately fell in and formed.”
"We had made no plans for our future operations, but while we were consulting how to proceed, the Fourth Regiment, which lay on our [8th CT] left, formed, and came and paraded with us. We now concluded to go in a body to the other two regiments [the Third and Sixth] that belonged to our brigade and induce them to join with us. These regiments lay forty or fifty rods in front of us, with a brook and bushes between. We did not wish to have anyone in particular to command, lest he might be singled out for a court-martial to exercise its clemency upon. We therefore gave directions to the drummers to give certain signals on the drums; at the first signal we shouldered our arms, at the second we faced, at the third we began our march to join with the other two regiments, and went off with music playing.
“By this time our officers had obtained knowledge of our military maneuvering and some of them had run across the brook, by a nearer way than we had taken, it being now quite dark, and informed the officers of those regiments of our approach and supposed intentions. The officers ordered their men to parade as quick as possible without arms. When that was done, they stationed a camp guard, that happened to be near at hand, between the men and their huts, which prevented them from entering and taking arms, which they were anxious to do. Colonel Meigs, of the Sixth Regiment, exerted himself to prevent his men from obtaining their arms until he received a severe wound in his side by a bayonet in the scuffle, which cooled his courage at the time. He said he had always considered himself the soldier’s friend and thought the soldiers regarded him as such, but had reason now to conclude he might be mistaken. Colonel Meigs was truly an excellent man and a brave officer. The man, whoever he was, that wounded him, doubtless had no particular grudge against him; it was dark and the wound was given, it is probable, altogether unintentionally. Colonel Meigs [‘s] son was afterwards Governor of Ohio and Postmaster General.
“When we found the officers had been too crafty for us we returned with grumbling instead of music, the officers following in the rear growling in concert. One of the men in the rear calling out. ‘Halt in front,’ the officers seized upon him like wolves on a sheep and dragged him out of the ranks, intending to make an example of him for being a “mutinous rascal,” but the bayonets of the men pointing at their breasts as thick as hatchel teeth, compelled them quickly to relinquish their hold of him. We marched back to our own parade and then formed again. The officers now began to coax us to disperse to our quarters, but that had no more effect upon us than their threats. One of them slipped away into the bushes, and after a short time returned, counterfeiting to have come directly from headquarters. Said he, ‘There is good news for you, boys, there has just arrived a large drove of cattle for the army.’ But this piece of finesse would not avail. All the answer he received for his labor was. ‘Go and butcher them,’ or some slight expression. The lieutenant colonel of the Fourth Regiment [John Sumner] now came on to the parade. He could persuade his men, he said, to go peaceably to their quarters. After a good deal of palaver, he ordered them to shoulder their arms, but the men taking no notice of him or his order, he fell into a violent passion, threatening them with the bitterest punishment if they did not immediately obey his orders. After spending a whole quiver of the arrows of his rhetoric, he again ordered them to shoulder their arms, but he met with the same success that he did at the first trial. He therefore gave up the contest as hopeless and left us and walked off to his quarters, chewing the cud of resentment all the way, and how much longer I neither knew nor cared. The rest of the officers, after they found that they were likely to meet with no better success than the colonel, walked off likewise to their huts.”
While we were under arms, the Pennsylvania troops, who lay not far from us, were ordered under arms and marched off their parades upon, as they were told, a secret expedition. They had surrounded us, unknown to either us or themselves (except the officers). At length, getting an item of what was going forward, they inquired of some of the stragglers what was going on among the Yankees. Being informed that they had mutinied on account of the scarcity of provisions, ‘Let us join them,’ said they. ‘Let us join the Yankees; they are good fellows, and have no notion of lying here like fools and starving.’ Their officers needed no further hinting. The troops were quickly ordered back to their quarters, from fear that they would join in the same song with the Yankees. We knew nothing of this for some time afterwards.”
Martin continued, “After our officers had left us to our own option, we dispersed to our huts and laid by our arms of our own accord, but the worm of hunger gnawing so keen kept us from being entirely quiet. We therefore still kept upon the parade in groups, venting our spleen at our country and government, then at our officers, and then at ourselves for our imbecility in staying there and starving in detail for an ungrateful people who did not care what became of us, so they could enjoy themselves while we were keeping a cruel enemy from them. While we were thus venting our gall against we knew not who, Colonel Stewart of the Pennsylvania Line [below], with two or three other officers of that Line, came to us and questioned us respecting our unsoldierlike conduct (as he termed it). We told him he needed not to be informed of the cause of our present conduct, but that we had borne till we considered further forbearance pusillanimity; that the times, instead of mending, were growing worse; and finally, that we were determined not to bear or forbear much longer. We were unwilling to desert the cause of our country, when in distress; that we knew her cause involved our own, but what signified our perishing in the act of saving her, when that very act would inevitably destroy us, and she must finally perish with us.
" ‘Why do you not go to your officers,’ said he [Col. Stewart above], ‘and complain in a regular manner?’ We told him we had repeatedly complained to them, but they would not hear us. ‘Your officers,’ said he, ‘are gentlemen, they will attend to you. I know them; they cannot refuse to hear you. But,’ said he, ‘your officers suffer as much as you do. We all suffer. The officers have no money to purchase supplies with any more than the private men have, and if there is nothing in the public store we must fare as hard as you. I have no other resources than you have to depend upon. I had not a six-pence to purchase a partridge that was offered me the other day. Besides,’ said he, ‘you know not how much you injure your own characters by such conduct. You Connecticut troops have won immortal honor to yourselves the winter past, by your perseverance, patience, and bravery, and now you are shaking it off at your heels. But I will go and see you officers, and talk with them myself.’ He went, but what the result was, I never knew. This Colonel Stewart [above] was an excellent officer, much beloved and respected by the troops of the line he belonged to. He possessed great personal beauty; the Philadelphia ladies styled him the Irish Beauty.
Image below: Colonel Return J Meigs Sr.
On May 26th, the day after the mutiny, Colonel Meigs summed up the affair in a letter to General Washington, “Yesterday morning a letter without signature was found in the rear of this Brigade with complaints of want of provisions, and intimations that if matters were not redress’d immediately, the troops would march into the country. Roll Call was attended as usual without any appearance of disturbance, at which time I mentioned the letter and cautioned the Officers to exert themselves in case any mutinous conduct should be discovered –Within half an hour after this conversation, the Officers and men having returned to the Hutts, was alarmed with the beating of drums & information that the two Regiments on the left were under Arms and marching toward the right wing, which they all believed and expected would join them. But if they had a design were prevented by the exertions of the Officers from assembling. The two Regiments were dispersed without much difficulty; but as I could not from the temper that appeared in the other Regiments depend upon them in case of further disorder, thought it not best to risqué a refusal of their assistance. I sent to Colo. Stewart [Acting Commander First Pennsylvania Brigade] requesting him to Assemble his Brigade – Several of the men who appeared to be the principals are confined, everything is quiet & I have not the least apprehension of any further difficulty. Mr. Gamble or the Brigade Commissary are doubtless to blame [for the mutiny]. This Brigade is now ten days deficient in Meat, notwithstanding my efforts to have them supply’d – there cannot possibly be a case where mutiny can be admitted; but that this brigade has been worse serv’d with provisions than any other in the army will I believe appear by Mr. Gamble’s books.”
James Gamble was the deputy commissary at Morristown. And his books called an “Account of Stores on hand of the Commissaries at Camp and at the Magazine” dated May 4, 1780, showed that the 1st Connecticut Brigade, which included Meigs’s 6th Connecticut Regiment, had no supply of pork on hand, but had two heads of cattle and four barrels of beef. The return indicated that available beef, pork, and cattle would feed the troops only about four days.
General Washington replied to Colonel Meigs report the same day saying, “I am exceedingly happy to hear that matters are again reduced to a state of tranquility in the Brigade under your command. I am very much obliged to you for your exertions upon the first appearance of a proceeding of so dangerous a nature and for your conduct throughout the whole of it. Mutiny as you very properly observe cannot in any case be justified; but still if the Commissaries have in any degree, by a partiality of issues given any ground of complaint, they shall be called to an account and made to answer for it.”
Role of the Pennsylvania Soldiers
The role of the Pennsylvania soldiers in the affair varies depending on whose account you read. All accounts agree that Pennsylvania soldiers were assembled to assist in suppressing the mutiny. The accounts also agree that Pennsylvania Colonel Walter Stewart talked to the mutinous Connecticut soldiers. But beyond these two simple facts the accounts diverge.
Col. Meigs stated that he was uncertain of the loyalty of the two other Connecticut regiments of his brigade so he “thought it not best to risqué a refusal of their assistance. I sent to Colo. Stewart [Acting Commander First Pennsylvania Brigade] requesting him to Assemble his Brigade.” But he did not say what, if anything, the Pennsylvanians did.
Though he got the name wrong, Capt. Richards mentioned Col. Stewart’s role. “A brigade of Pennsylvania troops lay near us, and one of the officers – a Mr. Stevenson –[Col. Walter Stewart?] came to us and remained with us until the disorder had subsided. I presume his object was to watch our motions and report to his line, that they might pursue such measures as the case might require.“
Private Martin, in his memoir, written many years after the mutiny, recalled the Pennsylvania soldiers on the verge of joining the mutiny. “While we were under arms, the Pennsylvania troops, who lay not far from us, were ordered under arms and marched off their parades upon, as they were told, a secret expedition. They had surrounded us, unknown to either us or themselves (except the officers). At length, getting an item of what was going forward, they inquired of some of the stragglers what was going on among the Yankees. Being informed that they had mutinied on account of the scarcity of provisions, ‘Let us join them,’ said they. ‘Let us join the Yankees; they are good fellows, and have no notion of lying here like fools and starving.’ Their officers needed no further hinting. The troops were quickly ordered back to their quarters, from fear that they would join in the same song with the Yankees. We knew nothing of this for some time afterwards.”
Martin also provided the most detail of Colonel Stewart’s role, “Colonel Stewart of the Pennsylvania Line, with two or three other officers of that Line, came to us and questioned us respecting our unsoldierlike conduct (as he termed it). We told him he needed not to be informed of the cause of our present conduct, but that we had borne till we considered further forbearance pusillanimity; that the times, instead of mending, were growing worse; and finally, that we were determined not to bear or forbear much longer. We were unwilling to desert the cause of our country, when in distress; that we knew her cause involved our own, but what signified our perishing in the act of saving her, when that very act would inevitably destroy us, and she must finally perish with us.
" ‘Why do you not go to your officers,’ said he, ‘and complain in a regular manner?’ We told him we had repeatedly complained to them, but they would not hear us. ‘Your officers,’ said he, ‘are gentlemen, they will attend to you. I know them; they cannot refuse to hear you. But,’ said he, ‘your officers suffer as much as you do. We all suffer. The officers have no money to purchase supplies with any more than the private men have, and if there is nothing in the public store we must fare as hard as you. I have no other resources than you have to depend upon. I had not a six-pence to purchase a partridge that was offered me the other day. Besides,’ said he, ‘you know not how much you injure your own characters by such conduct. You Connecticut troops have won immortal honor to yourselves the winter past, by your perseverance, patience, and bravery, and now you are shaking it off at your heels. But I will go and see you officers, and talk with them myself.’ He went, but what the result was, I never knew. This Colonel Stewart was an excellent officer, much beloved and respected by the troops of the line he belonged to. He possessed great personal beauty; the Philadelphia ladies styled him the Irish Beauty.”
Lieutenant Colonel Josiah Harmar, of the Pennsylvania Line stated that the Pennsylvanians turned out but weren’t needed, “…a Mutiny this Evening in the Connecticut Line a party of our Troops immediately turn’d out for its suppression but before they gain’d their Encampment, it was quelled by their own officers.”
Jno. Henderson, a Pennsylvania officer, claimed fear of the Pennsylvania soldier helped suppress the mutinous Connecticut soldiers, “our division were instantly alarmed, got under arms, Colo. Stewart at the head of his regiment seconded by Colo. Craig who by their good address & fear of having to deal with Pennsylvania troops, soon quited the mutiny & the malcontents return’d to their quarters again…”
Pennsylvania General William Irvine proudly wrote to Joseph Reed, the President [Governor] of Pennsylvania, that the Pennsylvania soldiers saved the day, though he never explained, “The Connecticut Line mutinied last Thursday Evening about dusk – beat drums &c. & assembled on their parade in order to march home bag & baggage – very fortunately our poor fellows – (tho as hungry as they) were not so disposed but on the contrary marched to quell them – which by the activity there[?] & address of our officers was happily effected with[out] damage – Tho I do not mean to throw the smallest reflection on any troops – knowing well that we ourselves have many foibles – yet I hope I may be pardoned if on this occasion I speak feelingly & even with some degree of exultation when I assure your Excellency that the good conduct of our line in my opinion kept the army together.”
General Washington reported to the President of Congress giving some credit to officers of the Pennsylvania Line, “Two Regiments of the Connecticut line mutinied and got under Arms on Thursday night, and but for the timely exertions of some of their Officers who got notice of it, it might have been the case with the whole, with a determination to return home, or at best to gain subsistence at the point of a bayonet. After a good deal of expostulation by their Officers and some of the Pennsylvania line who had come to their Assistance, after parading their Regiments upon the occasion, the Men were prevailed on to go to their Huts; but a few nevertheless turned out again with their packs, who are now confined. Colo. Meigs who acted with great propriety in endeavouring to suppress the mutiny was struck by one of the Soldiers. I wish our situation was better with respect to provision in other quarters; but it is not.”
By Washington’s account it sounds like the Pennsylvania soldiers were assembled and that Pennsylvania officers talked to the mutineers. But Washington does not give any indication that the Pennsylvania soldiers marched against the mutineers.
Aftermath of Mutiny
The mutiny caused Washington and others to scurry in an attempt to find meat for the army. Washington wrote to Henry Champion on May 26th, “We are in a situation of extremity for want of meat. The troops on several days have been entirely destitute of any, and for considerable time past they have been at best at half, a quarter, at an Eighth allowance of this essential article. This distress produced a mutiny last night in the Connecticut line. I entreat Your best and every exertion to give us relief.” Champion replied on June 2nd, “have some… hopes I shall be able to increase the supplies in the course of one or two weeks…”
Philip Schuyler, a member of the Committee from Congress visiting Headquarters, wrote to New York’s Governor George Clinton, “A Dangerous mutiny has taken place in a Connecticut Brigade; the soldiery insist on returning home. It is for the present quelled, but we have too much reason to apprehend that it will show itself soon and more seriously unless provisions arrive. The Officers live chiefly on bread & water to give the men all they can, and the latter have for ten days past much oftener been without than with any and at no time when that period have they had more than half allowance. Our greatest distress is in the article of meat.”
Charles Stewart gave Washington’s secretary an update on food supplies on the evening of May 26, 1780, “On hand a sufficiency for tomorrow at half a pound of pork per man the like quantity issued today. 258 barrels sent from Philadelphia 23rd May & an express sent from Morris Town to meet and hurry it on to camp this quantity is the collection of the merchants in Philadelphia. A small drove of cattle supposed fifty to set out the 24th instant from Philadelphia. Some cattle wintered in Sussex County sent for don’t know the number, no return of them. Flour equal to fifteen days supply at the rate of ten thousand rations per day if baked into Bread. Champion’s letter to his Excellency promised some cattle, have not heard whether they are stopped at R. River [Raritan River?] or if they are nearer to camp. Blaine promised a second and third drove none yet come in nor any letter since that by M. Matthews. I know of nothing else in my power to inform you…”
Pennsylvania General Irvine wasn’t very optimistic in his assessment of the army’s situation in a letter to Joseph Reed. May 26, 1780 – “… matters are now become so serious that it is absolutely necessary to speak plain – in short without the most speedy exertions somewhere & I believe everywhere, the Army must – will disband. We have had about four pounds of meat only in eleven days – neither officers nor soldiers have money nor credit. I can assure you with great truth that many officers have lived some time on bread & water rather than take any of the scanty allowance from the men. We are told of supplys coming from Philadelphia and other places but I fear in whole are near temporary & perhaps more imaginary than real – be this as it may they come on so slow & such small quantitys at a time that they rather serve to tantilize than do any real service -…How these things may end I can not pretend to say – but am fully persuaded that unless the army is at last fed we must be ruined. Something ought also be done respecting pay what that something is I know not – but fear much that nothing short of hard money will do – The Enemy have Emmissaries among us – who dropt printed hand bills [text below] – not only granting pardon to all who have been formerly in their service but – promising large Bountys & many other shining advantages to all who will go & join the Kings Troops – this they press them to do with arms in their lands – in which mode they say they will be most welcome.”
“Address to the Soldiers of the Continental Army, 1780The time is at length arrived, when all the artifices, and falsehoods of the Congress and of your commanders can no longer conceal from you, the misery of your situation; you are neither Clothed, Fed, nor Paid; your numbers are wasting away by Sickness, Famine, Nakedness, and rapidly so by the period of your stipulated Services, being in general expired, this is then the moment to fly from slavery and fraud. I am happy in acquainting the old countrymen, that the affairs of Ireland are fully settled, and that Great-Britain and Ireland are firmly united, as well from interest as from affection: I need not now tell you who are born in America, that you have been cheated and abused; and you are both sensible, that in order to procure your liberty you must quit your leaders, and join your real friends who scorn to impose upon you, and who will receive you with open arms; kindly forgiving all your errors. You are told that you are surrounded by a numerous militia, this is also false – associate then together, make use of your firelocks and join the British Army, where you will be permitted to dispose of yourselves as you please.”
Quartermaster General Nathaniel Greene was also pessimistic, writing to the Governor of Rhode Island, “Our distress is beyond description, and without more attention is paid to the Army, there will be none many weeks longer. Mutinies have already taken place in the Conecticut line, and we are apprehensive it will run through the whole line like wild fire. We have been starving for this three weeks past, and have but poor prospects before us at this time.”
The various pleas must have helped. Some food did reach the camp. Washington wrote to the President of Congress on May 28th, “The Troops were served yesterday with allowance of meat, by the arrival of some pork from Trenton – and Thirty Cattle came in from Connecticut in the Evening. Sixteen were left at West Point. Some Cattle also have just reached Camp from Pennsylvania.”
Private Martin summed up the results of the mutiny with an optimistic tone. “Our stir did us some good in the end, for we had provisions directly after, so we had no great cause for complaint for some time.”
Some of the mutineers were arrested and confined. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much information on them or their fate. Colonel Meigs told Washington that “Several of the men who appeared to be the principals are confined.”
Washington mentioned the confined mutineers in a letter to the President of Congress “the Men were prevailed on to go to their Huts; but a few nevertheless turned out again with their packs, who are now confined.”
The last reference I’ve found came from the General Orders of May 30, 1780, which stated, “The Commander in Chief is pleased to Order a release of all prisoners now under Confinement except prisoners of war and those of the Connecticut Brigade who were confined for Mutiny…”
I don’t know what happened to the confined Connecticut mutineers, but my guess is eventually they were quietly released.
- Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier; with Anecdotes of Incidents that Occurred within his Own Observation (Hallowell, ME.: Glazier, Masters & Co., 1830) This text is copied from a later edition, entitled Private Yankee Doodle edited by George E. Scheer (Little, Brown and Company, 1962)
- Lt. Col. Josiah HarmarLieut. Colonel Josiah Harmar’s Journal No. 1 Commencing November 11th 1778Josiah Harmar PapersWilliam L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
- From George Washington to Major General Robert Howe, 25 May1780 https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-26-02-0118Captain Samuel Richards, 3rd Connecticut Regiment, First CT Brigade
- Diary of Samuel Richards, Captain of Connecticut Line, War of the Revolution, 1775-1781, published by his great grandson, Philadelphia, Pa. 1909, pg.67-68
- Doctor James Thacher, Surgeon, Jackson’s Additional Massachusetts Regt.Military Journal of the American Revolution, From the commencement to the disbanding of the American Army;…by James Thacher, M.D., 1862, Corner House Historical Publications, 1998, pg. 197-198
- Captain Samuel Richards, 3rd Connecticut Regiment, First CT BrigadeDiary of Samuel Richards, Captain of Connecticut Line, War of the Revolution, 1775-1781, published by his great grandson, Philadelphia, Pa. 1909, pg.67-68To George Washington from Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs, 26 May 1780 https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-26-02-0131
- Jno. Henderson, Pennsylvania Line, Eric Olsen digital files
- From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 27–28 May 1780 https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-26-02-0138
- From George Washington to Henry Champion, Sr., 26 May 1780 https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-26-02-0126
- Philip Schuyler to George Clinton, May 26, 1780, Eric Olsen digital files, Connecticut Mutiny Charles Stewart to Robert H. Harrison, May 26, 1780, Eric Olsen digital files, Connecticut Mutiny
- General Irvine to President [PA] Joseph Reed, May 26, 1780, Eric Olsen digital file, Connecticut Mutiny
- Greene to Governor William Greene of Rhode Island, May 27, 1780, The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, Volume V, 1 November 1779-31 May 1780
Richard K. Showman, editor, Robert E. McCarthy, Senior Associate Editor, Dennis M. Conrad and E. Wayne Carp, Associate Editors, c. 1989 The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, Published for the Rhode Island Historical Society From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 27–28 May 1780 https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-26-02-0138
- General Orders, May 30, 1780, The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Volume 26, 13 May – 4 July 1780, Benjamin L. Huggins and Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins, Editors, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville and London, 2018, pages 243-245George Washington to Samuel Huntington, The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, Volume 26, 13 May – 4 July 1780, Benjamin L. Huggins and Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins, Editors, University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville and London, 2018, page 204