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Not Across the Wide Missouri: Artemas Ward: "Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics" View from the Roasterie **Ward Circle** XXXV: November 18, 2013[1]

Artemas ward Google Search

I was begotten by James Vandevere DeLong and Fonya Usher Lord, who was begotten by Florence Richardson Usher and W.W. Lord--William Walcott or William Ward Lord, I have never been quite certain which. He was begotten by John Anderson Lord and Elinor Lawton Carter, who was begotten by John Carter and Isabel Walcott Ward, who was in turn begotten by Anna Harriet Field and Andrew Henshaw Ward, who was begotten by Elizabeth Denny and Thomas Walter Ward, who was begotten by Sarah Trowbridge and Artemas Ward.

Artemas Ward (1727-1800) is my great-great-great-great-grandfather. Artemas Ward is also a statue in upper northwest Washington DC, in the middle of Ward Circle, at the intersection of Massachusetts and Nebraska Avenues, square by American University and only a mile from the border of DC with Maryland's Montgomery Country. The inscription on the statue reads:

Son of Massachusetts, Graduate of Harvard College, Judge and Legislator, Delegate 1780-1781 to the Continental Congress, Soldier of Three Wars, First Commander of the Patriot Forces

Artemas Ward is the reason that in my family we do not like George Washington all that much.

April 20, 1775, the day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, sees Artemas Ward, the previous day in bed with bladder stones, ride from Shrewsbury to Boston. April 21, 1775 sees him take command of the Minuteman militia that has gathered around British army-controlled Boston: Ward, due to his standing in the community, his long-time service in the Massachusetts legislature, his status as a leading Patriot in Massachusetts politics, and his experience as a company and a battalion commander in the battles around Ticonderoga in the French and Indian War, had been named second-in-command of the potentially-rebel Minuteman forces. The senior general never showed up. So on April 21, 1775, Artemas Ward took command--to the extent that anybody could--of the forces of the United States of America-to-be. By April 23, 1775, he was writing to the Provincial Congress and to the Committee of Safety, seeking the authority to raise and maintain an army, for the Minutemen regarded themselves as a short-term rapid-response force only:

My situation is such that if I have not enlisting orders immediately, I shall be left all alone. It is impossible to keep the men here excepting something be done. I therefore pray that the plan be completed and handed to me this morning, that you, Gentlemen of the Congress, issue orders for enlisting men...

And he soon found himself in command of an army with a nominal strength of 13,600 besieging the British in Boston. Charles Martyn reports:

The post of general officer in this army presented many peculiar problems--superimposed on days unceasingly crowded by consideration of military plans and dangers. Casual contemporary references show Ward one day at Roxbury; on another reconnoitering Lechmere's Point; again, reconnoitering Dorchester Neck; and, next, riding over the Charlestown peninsula. He was fortunate in having the energetic cooperation of a number of able officers--chief in authority among the during the first weeks being General Thomas of the Massachusetts forces, the Connecticut Generals Putnam and Spencer, and Colonel Stark of New Hampshire--and also the valuable assistance of Joseph Warren, whose popularity gave him great influence among the troops; but lack of experience and precedents, and of qualified assistants, added greatly to the labors of every commanding officer, and it does not surprise one to read Jedediah Huntington's statement that both Ward and Putnam had "too much business on their hands". And there was lack of gunpowder, bayonets, horses, cooking utensils and clothing; of everything except courage and food...

And on May 20, 1775, the Provincial Congress formally appointed Artemas Ward "general and commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts forces"--with the troops from Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire paying "him a voluntary obedience".

On June 15, 1775, after a council of war, Artemas Ward decided that it was time to tighten the lines of the siege: to move large pieces of the army from Cambridge to both Bunker Hill in Charlestown and Dorchester neck, and fortify both positions:

The Life of Artemas Ward the First Commander in chief of the American Charles Martyn Google Books

And the Battle of Bunker Hill comes June 17, 1775, at the end of which the mauled left wing of the American army retreats across Charlestown Neck to Prospect Hill and digs in again, and the equally-mauled British right wing digs in in Charlestown and shows no inclination to try to advance further. Ward's army had had enough ammunition, enough formed troops, and enough officers to convince the British that they needed major reinforcements. and the following day, Ward was once again hard at work trying to further strengthen the logistical position of the army: "large ordinance, a quantity of powder... small musket balls... furnish the train of artillery with a company of artificers..." plus tents and blankets.

Come July 3, 1775, Artemas Ward handed command of the army over to George Washington, as part of John Adams's strategy to bind Virginia and the south to what had hitherto been a rebellion of Massachusetts and New England alone. And the army which Ward had assembled, supplied, and organized for Bunker Hill in two months--well, it took Washington seventeen months to throw it away completely, paying insufficient attention to logistics and supply, and hazarding it in straight-up open-field battles against British regulars.

And come the winter of 1776 Artemas Ward had decided to ask for permission to resign from the Continental Army--to resume his career in the Massachusetts legislature and, since Massachusetts had no governor until its new Constitution of 1780, effective Governor pro tem. of the state. His plea was on the grounds that his health was too poor for him to take part in an active campaign, and that he did not want to hold the authority of a Major-General when he could not do the work. Washington's opinion of this was very snarky indeed:

George Washington to Joseph Reed, April 1, 1776: Nothing of importance has occurred since my last, unless it be the resignations of Generals Ward and Fry, and the resumption of the former, or retraction, on account as he says, of its being disagreeable to some of the officers. Who those officers are, I have not heard. I have not inquired.... [His resignation] was put upon the footing of duty or conscience, the General being persuaded that his health would not allow him to take that share of duty that his office required. The officers to whom the resignation is disagreeable, have been able, no doubt, to convince him of his mistake, and that his health will admit him to be alert and active I shall leave him till he can determine yea or nay, to command in this quarter...


George Washington to Charles Lee, May 9, 1776: General ward, upon the evacuation of Boston, and finding that their was a probability of his removing from the smoke of his own chimney, applied to me, and wrote to Congress for leave to resign. A few days afterwards, some of the officers, as he says, getting uneasy at the prospect of his leaving him, he applied for his letter of resignation, which had been committed to me care; but, behold! it had been carefully forwarded to Congress, and as I have since learnt, judged so reasonable (want of health being the plea) that it was instantly complied with...

So we do not like George Washington too much.

[1] See: Charles Martyn (1921), The Life of Artemas Ward, the First Commander-in-chief of the American Revolution