29 October 2012

Troops Advance to Squash Whiskey Rebellion

The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hodgeland, 2006, Excerpts

The citizen army that Washington and Hamilton were moving west had two classes. Officers came from the ranks of the creditor aristocracy in the seaboard cities. The men these cavaliers were commanding were mainly militia draftees. Because better-off draftees hired substitutes to serve in their places, the ranks were crowded with the poorest laborers and landless workers, recent immigrants and subsistence farmers.

The draftees had no uniforms. Their clothing couldn’t keep out autumn dampness and chill. To Hamilton’s frustration, the supply process was chronically sluggish, and desperately needed tents, overalls, and jackets, even blankets were scarce. The men slept in cold fields, sometimes in tents but always on the ground, usually without straw for insulation. Drinking water could be bad, food paltry. Officers stayed in warm taverns and homes, where they spent their plentiful coin on extra food and drink. At times they were lavishly fed and entertained by hosts who could proffer fine wines and the charms of piano-playing daughters. Out in the camps, men drank whiskey and fired newly issued muskets for fun. Drunk on wine in brick houses, officers didn’t focus on orders not to waste powder.

Mornings began with floggings. Draft evasion had been rampant, with militiamen simply running and hiding. Once pressed into service, men deserted incorrigibly, embarrassing state governors and undermining the mission’s political spin: this was supposed to be a patriotic citizen army, reporting eagerly for duty to suppress ambitious traitors.

Foot soldiers felt resentment for the mission and had hopes mainly for plunder. They were all hungry and cold. While families cowered in farmhouses, freelancing soldiers crashed drunk through fields of just-ripened crops, tearing down fences for firewood, slaughtering chickens and pigs, buildings fires, and sleeping where they fell.

This army seemed thirstier for blood, more intent on murder, less disciplined. Rebel militias had been trying to take over the legitimate government. These soldiers were even more frightening: they were the legitimate government.

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