David McCullough


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1776 Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Chapter 2 Summary: Rabble in Arms

General Nathanael Greene was the son of a wealthy Rhode Island Quaker who had little use for education—therefore Nathanael educated himself. One of the many topics of the books he read was warfare. Even though he was a Quaker, he was ready to go when the call went out. Because he had a stiff leg, he was at first deemed unworthy to command troops, so he joined the infantry instead. His natural intelligence and talent were so high, however, that his superiors overlooked the leg and made him the commander of the Rhode Island Army of Observation.

The generals knew at that time they were woefully underprepared. They had very little gunpowder and the army was wretched. Even without qualified engineers, however, Washington built bigger and bigger fortifications.

The men, mostly New Englanders, knew little but drinking, carousing, and whoring. Their tents were in disarray. They had no uniforms. They would go home to their families—or elsewhere—not only without official leave but also without even asking. Some of their reasons were understandable, like checking on their families and helping to get in the crops, but such lack of discipline would never do for an army. Then diseases, like typhoid and dysentery, gripped the camps. This was mostly due to a lack of cleanliness, particularly in their choices of places to defecate—in nearby fields and in open sewers. They refused to wash their clothes because it was women’s work. Washington, however, began bringing discipline to the camp. Men were flogged, whipped, and even run out of town.

What passed for uniforms were varied in color and fabric, and were disheveled. Officers were indistinguishable from the men. Their arms were equally varied, but most were shotguns and flintlock muskets. These proved another point of indiscipline. Since the men owned their own guns, they saw no reason not to fire as they pleased. In order to distinguish officers from the men, Washington had them wear ribbons across their shoulders—a different color for each rank.

The majority of the men were actually craftsmen and were used to hard work and hard times, but…

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