Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Joseph Reed and the New Year's Mutiny
On this day in 1781, 1,500 soldiers from the Pennsylvania Line--all 11 regiments under General Anthony Wayne’s command--insisted that their three-year enlistments had expired, killed three officers in a drunken rage and abandoned the Continental Army’s winter camp at Morristown, New Jersey. It was the largest collective mutiny of the war. There is little doubt that much of the cause for mutiny rested with the fact that Morristown had been an extremely harsh winter camp.
The soldiers made their way to Philadelphia, where they hoped to be able to negotiate a deal with Congress. In the end, Congressional President Joseph Reed granted roughly 200 of the men their discharges, while the others were given furloughs.
Though it may seem idiotic that Reed and Congress took no disciplinary actions against the men, we should remember that their actions probably saved the Colonial Army from completely disintegrating. Reed's decision to "give in" to the mutineers was not only extremely wise but extremely essential. The winter of 1781 was no time for argument. Reed's decision was one of those rare moments that is often forgotten in history.