Reasons I Committed to Revising General Greene’s Story (part three)
One cannot imagine the turmoil within both the Continental Congress and Army throughout the American Revolution. Britain was a powerful nation with the most able army and navy in the world. The declaration of war from the American Colonies was akin to the scrawny, unknown, Israelite child David challenging the burly, champion, Philistine warrior Goliath. The colonists were keenly aware.
The responsibilities of the Continental Congress were enormous. The reality of being subject to acute hardships, imprisonment, agonizing disability, or death was a constant for the Continental Soldier.
The officers of the Continental Army were subordinate to Congress. General Washington, certainly, and many of his senior officers attempted to communicate their continuous needs to congress of obtaining the monies necessary to properly supply the perpetual needs of a fighting army; offering sufficient and prompt pay to soldiers; granting commissions; and the list goes on and on.
General Nathanael Greene began his communication (and friendship) with Congressman John Adams at the start of the war. Greene encouraged a declaration of independence. He urged a taxation for the support of the army. He advocated for officers being denied promotions by congress. Washington, Greene and their fellow officers understood the critical needs of the army. Congress--safely and comfortably removed--did not.
Congressman John Adams chaired the Board of War and Ordinance. This committee served as oversight for operations of the Continental Amy, which included commissioning and advancing officers. (As a congressman John Adams was appointed to/sought out a seat on ninety committees. He chaired twenty. These assignments outnumbered any of his colleagues.)
Colonel Henry Knox was a close friend of Greene prior to and throughout the war. Henry served as chief of artillery from the start of the war. In May of 1777, the Board of War and Ordinance was prepared to replace Colonel Knox as chief of artillery and appoint a French artillery officer, Philippe Charles Tronson du Coudray in his place, giving Coudray a commission of major-general (the rank given would also supersede that of Generals Nathanael Greene and John Sullivan).
Washington addressed this issue in a letter to congress on May 31, 1777:
"General Knox, who has deservedly acquired the character of one of the most valuable officers in the service, and who combating almost innumerable difficulties in the department he fills has placed the artillery upon a footing that does him the greatest honor; he, I am persuaded, would consider himself injured by an appointment superseding his command, and would not think himself at liberty to continue in the service. Should such an event take place in the present state of things, there would be too much reason to apprehend a train of ills, such as might confuse and unhinge this important department."
Generals Greene and Sullivan, along with Colonel Knox, presented their own objections to congress--and made clear their own intention of resigning their commissions should congress place foreign officers--not committed to the cause of American liberty as they were--above their command.
Congressman John Adams was highly offended. He viewed the objection of the generals, and Colonel Knox, as insubordinate. He demanded an apology to congress.
No apology was given. Congress came to their senses and Henry Knox remained chief of artillery with the commission of Brigadier General (eventually major general). The French officer Coudray was not given a commission superseding that of Greene or Sullivan.
John Adams ended his friendship with Nathanael Greene.
David & Goliath
Congressman John Adams
Major General Henry Knox
Major General John Sullivan
Commander-in-Chief General George Washington