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Chapter XV

Table of Contents




The surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in October 1781 ended actual operations, but British armies remained at New York, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah and on the Penobscot River in Maine for nearly two years longer. During this time, or until the treaty was signed, it was necessary for the colonists to maintain their armies; but this was done with less expenditures of men, money and supplies than before. The same old complaints continued, as to lack of pay, clothing and rations, causing mutinies as in the spring of 1780. Even in this period the army was never properly fed and clothed, and it was scarcely paid at all. For pay to be a year in arrears was not unusual.

In October 1780 the army, still principally in the Highlands of the Hudson, had been reorganized and reduced to ten regiments from Massachusetts, eight from Virginia, five from Connecticut, six from Pennsylvania, and proportionate numbers from the smaller colonies. After Yorktown the army was again reduced to seven regiments from Massachusetts, two from New York, and one from New Jersey.

During the war a considerable body of invalids had accumulated, with the army and throughout the colonies. It was not the age of physical reconstruction, and with crude field surgery and certain infection very many wounds and diseases were followed by permanent disability. A part of the less seriously disabled had been transferred to the Invalid Corps, previously mentioned; but now that the end of the war approached such men were calling for discharge.

During the year 1782 there were frequent applications for the discharge of soldiers whose wounds or sickness incapacitated them for any further duty even in garrison. These men prefer-


red discharge with a pension equal to half their pay rather than to be transferred to the Invalid Corps, although in this corps their full pay and all emoluments would be continued. To remedy this complaint the Congress passed on April 23 the following resolution:

“RESOLVED, that all such sick and wounded soldiers of the armies of the United States, who shall in future be reported * * * as unfit for further duty either in the field or in garrison, and who shall apply for a discharge, in preference to being placed or continued in the corps of invalids (and who can give authentic proof that they either have the means to support themselves, or that their friends will provide for them and prevent them becoming burthensome to the society where they really belong or reside). In that case all such persons shall be discharged, and be entitled to receive as a pension, (the value of half their pay,) five dollars per month, in lieu of all pay and emoluments.”

It must be remembered that five dollars then was equal to twenty-five or more today. If we take into consideration the standard of living, common possession of luxuries, and general spending habits of the present day, we shall see that five dollars per month was not such a small amount as it now looks, though it was small enough.

At the beginning of the year 1781 Congress made provision for the officers of the medical staff after their dismissal from the public service. It was:

“RESOLVED, that all officers in the hospital department and medical staff, herein after mentioned, who shall continue in service until the end of the war, or be reduced before that time as supernumaries, shall be entitled to, and receive, during life, in lieu of half pay, the following allowance, viz:

The Director, equal to the half pay of a lieutenant colonel;

Chief physicians and surgeons of the army and hospitals, each equal to the half pay of majors;

Hospital physicians and surgeons, purveyors, apothecaries, and regimental surgeons, each equal to the half pay of a (lieutenant) captain;

Regimental mates, each equal to the half pay of a lieutenant.”

    *    *    *


It was also added:

“That the Director, Chief Physicians of the army and hospitals, and other physicians and officers in the Hospital Dept., as well as those lately dismissed from service, * * * shall have the depreciation of money made good to them on their pay for such part of the above mentioned time as they were actually employed in public service.”

On July 23, 1782, the Congress passed a resolution regulating purchases of medical supplies and fixing the succession of ranks and the pay of medical officers. This resolution fixed a standard of prices on all supply articles, charged the purveyors and apothecaries with all articles of supply and required accounting at the end of each year. Regimental and other subordinate surgeons were to receive fixed annual supplies and to be accountable for them. This resolution also fixed the relative rank of all surgeons, and their pay, as follows:

Per Month









Deputy Director










Hospital Surgeon

$95 5/6




Purveyor and Apothecary





Deputy Purveyor and Deputy Apothecary

$101 5/6




Hospital Mates, each





Stewards, each





Ward master, each





The ration was valued at four dollars per month. On December 3, 1782, these emoluments were somewhat increased, the allowance for subsistence being more than double, but, following the war the pay of all officers was very greatly reduced.

The army remained at Newburgh, still holding the citadel of the continent. At the beginning of 1783 this army consisted of a detachment from Maryland, a regiment and battalion from New Jersey, the 1st and 2nd New York Regiments, a regiment and battalion from New Hampshire, and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th Massachusetts Regiments. These formed the old guard which still stood around the Commander-in-Chief.


Meanwhile the heroic army which had “suffered all things of all men”, was disintegrating. Furloughs were given in June and the army dwindled away. A portion of it was left to guard the stores and to secure them when peace should have been restored. There were very many invalids; many had no homes to which to go; many were in rags and not fit to be seen on the highways; others who had no means of getting away and could travel only as beggars, preferred to remain behind and wait for the long-promised pay.

By June 1783 it had become clear that the long years of waiting were at last coming to an end and that the army could again be reduced with safety. This time all infantry regiments were disbanded except four from Massachusetts and one from each of the other New England colonies. It appears that the 2nd Continental Artillery Regiment was also held. These organizations were retained to the end of the year, the last to be discharged was Colonel Vose’s 2nd Massachusetts Regiment. The soldiers from this colony, like the Knights of St. John of Crusading memory, were first to take the field and last to leave it. They had met the enemy on every field from Lexington to Yorktown, and were now to take over the city of New York from the only redcoats remaining in the United Colonies.

The cities held by the British were gradually evacuated; Wilmington in May, 1782, Savannah in June and Charleston in December of that year. In March 1783 news of the peace treaty reached America, but New York was not evacuated until November 25. General Sir Guy Carleton then commanded the British forces in America. The various “Royal Americans” corps had been disbanded in May, leaving 7557 regulars, British and German. The Hessians taken at Saratoga had vanished, no one knew where. The remaining British prisoners were exchanged. There were in New York some ten British regiments of about 400 men each, and four German battalions.

The force that marched into New York, performing the last military movement of the war, consisted of a battalion of light infantry, the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment, the two artillery companies and a battalion of militia under Col. John Stark; the whole numbering 800 men. On December 4, Washington took leave of his officers and the Continental Army passed into History; became a memory and a heritage for the ages to come.


When the Continental Army finally disappeared, the Congress—always intensely jealous and fearful of an army—voted to maintain “eighty privates and a due proportion of officers, none to exceed the rank of captain.,” for the purpose of garrisoning West Point and Fort Pitt. When the new government was established in 1789, Washington succeeded in getting this ridiculously small force increased, but it was not until near the end of his administration that he could induce Congress to authorize a brigadier general to command the army. This first commander-in-chief was Gen. James Wilkinson, the Dr. Wilkinson of Maryland who in 1775 had exchanged the lancet for a more formidable blood-letting instrument and had wielded it actively from Boston to Saratoga.

The men in the army had been disbanded, but there was still a large number of invalids, helpless and homeless, dependent on the Government for support. For these and for whatever peace establishment might remain, a hospital department of some kind, or at least a hospital, appeared needful.
October 23, 1783, a hospital establishment was proposed for the army on a peace basis:

A general hospital for the reception of the invalids of the army and navy will be necessary, to consist, for the present, of the following persons:

1 Director, to have the superintendence of the regimental hospitals    $80.00
1 Surgeon                                $50.00
4 Mates, each                          $25.00
1 Purveyor and Apothecary     $50.00
1 Steward                               $15.00
4 Nurses, each                         $ 5.00

To be entitled to draw each a ration of provisions per day, but no other allowance.

The invalids to receive one dollar per month and the provisions and cloathing of a common soldier during life.”

It was estimated that the annual expense of this establishment would be $359,530 (possibly $531,950) but that articles to the value of $131,950 might be manufactured, lowering the cost to the Government to the sum of $227,580 (possibly $400,000).


It does not appear that this hospital was actually established. Probably these men had seen enough of hospitals and wanted no more of them.

Pensions appear to have been provided for as early as 1776, if not earlier. A resolution of August 26, 1776, provided that pensioners, when able, should be formed in a corps of invalids. On July 16, 1777, the corps of invalids was actually organized. The hospital plan, submitted on February 27, 1777, had provided:

“P. 20 that it be recommended to each of the States to make suitable provision for the maintenance of such maimed and incurable Soldiers and Seamen as shall be discharged from the service of the United States.”

This report, however, was not adopted, the plan of a corps of invalids having been chosen instead. This corps was stationed at Philadelphia.

On December 13, 1777, a return of the number and names of the wounded men was made, distinguishing such as were fit for service in the corps of invalids and such as were totally unfit for service.

With the disbanding of the army and the granting of half pay to disabled soldiers the task of the medical men may be said to have ended. They had followed the Continental Army in every field from the snow-drifted forests of Canada to the pestilential swamps of the Carolinas and Georgia. At the darkest hours of Valley Forge and Morristown as well as at the victories of Saratoga and Yorktown, they had never failed. Having neither rank nor authority, begrudged the status of an officer, toiling obscure and unseen at the rear, with none of the incentives always before officers of the Line, they remained steadfast to the cause, and in spite of lack of reward or even of ordinary monetary inducements, they helped to keep aloft the flag of the infant republic.

Nor was it alone as medical officers of the army that they gave their efforts. At home they aided in keeping the militia organized and ready either to send replacements to regular regiments or to take the field in a body. They assisted in raising the necessary taxes and in collecting the needed supplies. They


were active and prominent members of the various provincial legislative bodies and of the Continental Congress. Wherever real leaders were needed they were to be seen.

As has already been stated, there were in the army very many medical men serving as officers of all ranks up to that of major general. Some, like Joseph Warren, John Hazlett, Hugh Mercer and John Thomas, gave their lives to the cause. Others, like James Wilkinson, Henry Dearborn and Arthur St. Clair, survived the war to reach still higher positions. Many, like Warren and Church, had been extremely active in urging on the war, others aided in carrying it to a successful conclusion.

Nor did the public activities of the members of the medical profession cease with the end of war. These men continued to labor in founding the new republic and were active and efficient in all public matters. Particularly were they prominent in the war department of the new Government. Of the first seven commanders of the United States Army, three—St. Clair, Wilkinson and Dearborn—had been educated as physicians. Wilkinson commanded the army from 1800 to 1812 and Dearborn from 1812 to 1815, through the first war. Of the early secretaries of war, three were medical men: Dr. William Eustis, Dr. James McHenry, and Dr. Henry Dearborn.

Others of the medical profession become governors of states, United States senators, and, in fact, filled positions of every rank except that of president of the United States. Enough names have been mentioned to demonstrate that after the war as well as during its progress, the medical faculty played an important part in getting the new ship of state safely launched and in guiding it out of troubled waters into safe seas.

It is extremely doubtful if in any other war of this or any other nation the medical men of the country played so important a part as they did in the American Revolution of 1775-83. For them this humble effort has been made; to them it is dedicated, in the hope that their unrewarded steadfastness, their long-tried resolution, their pure and undefiled patriotism may be remembered and may serve as an example to the future.