Friday, November 8, 2013

And so it goes

Growing up I felt much that the battles of the Revolutionary war were fought in rapid succession - that combat was an almost daily event and that thousands upon thousands of men died in a constant stream of gunfire and cannon blast. The more I study, the more I find that nothing could be further from the truth! Examining the timeline for the revolution reveals that the big battles we learn about were few and far between. Months passed by with no engagements to speak of. Such was the case between the battles of Bunker Hill in June of 1775 and the next major event of the Revolution - the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Patriot retreating from Quebec
In the time spanning more than a year, little had happened in the sense of a real military conflict, small skirmishes occurred in the Carolinas between Loyalists and Patriots and an offensive in Canada was launched. Major outcomes of the period were that Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief and Benedict Arnold failed in his attempt to capture Quebec.
The winter of 1775 to 1776 was one of the most precarious for the war effort. Washington's ranks had swelled to over 10,000 regulars and militia, but this amount of men brought on terrible issues with logistics and management. The troops needed shelter, clothes, food and medical treatment, all of which were in short supply, but most of all, they needed training. Washington knew he could not rely on providence to save him and he quickly set to the task of whipping his men into shape.

One of the largest issues that plagued the army was venereal disease. The oldest profession had found a soft spot in the hearts and wallets of the patriot soldiers and when the men shared, they shared everything. Lets be honest though...who isn't excited by woman who shows a little ankle eh? Syphilis, Gonorrhea and Herpes ran rampant  and the surgeons, doctors and other medical staff were busy helping men with more serious ailments, cholera, trench-foot, lyme disease, typhoid, tuberculosis and a whole host of other ailments that come from packing men in close proximity with poor food and water.

Sanitation was an even bigger issue. Men would relieve themselves in close proximity to potable water sources, near the kitchens and generally wherever they could. Washington had his hands full. The first order of business was to straighten up the camp.Washington devised a plan that would solve all the issues of the camp. First and foremost - any man found with an STD would pay a fine for his medical care. On top of this, he would be required to work latrine duty until the condition cleared up. Any man caught with a prostitute in camp would be fined and forced to work the kitchens or laundry. Any man caught relieving himself in any other location than the latrine would be flogged publicly and made to work latrine duty for a week. This solved all the major issues as the money brought in from fees and fines was sufficient to help equip and feed the army. Health improved as would be expected.

Morale was further boosted by a little pamphlet called "Common Sense" by Thomas Paine. The little pamphlet summed up in plain language the patriot's reason for fighting and united the cause. With healthy soldiers and improved morale, Washington and the cause of liberty moved on toward freedom.

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