American Revolutionary War Forces Chain of Command at the Start of the 1776 New York City Campaign

Major General Nathanael Greene

When the British abandoned Boston, George Washington and his generals knew King George was far from listening to the colonist’s demands. They would be back, and in force. But where? All information and common sense pointed to New York City. Though smaller in size than Philadelphia and not the center of the fledgling rebel government, New York had other qualities that would attract a British invasion.

A large fleet could anchor easily in its spacious harbor. The North River (Hudson River), could serve as a highway for the British forces to cut the colonies in half and team up with their northern forces. In addition, most residents of New York were loyalists as well as their neighbors living fertile Long Island. A British army could last indefinitely housed in spacious homes with ample supplies of food ferried over from Long Island. New York City would be an ideal base from which to harass and pursue the rebel army. Thus, even before General Howe left Boston, George Washington sent General Lee to begin constructing a series of forts and batteries around the New York. The army followed within four months. When the British fleet arrived midsummer 1776, the American forces numbered approximately thirty thousand, hunkered behind massive earthen works and forts manning a wide range of ships’ cannon, spread over Manhattan (York Island) and Long Island.

General George Washington, Commander-In-Chief

The American chain of command lists the colony and numbers for each regiment. This reflects the force that made the trek to New York to oppose a British invasion. It does not show the numbers Washington had available to counter any British movement. A small pox epidemic, malaria and numerous desertions reduced the number of men at arms. At any one time, just over half of Washington’s army could be deployed to fight.

Washington and his generals.

Five divisions included  New England troops as well as soldiers from the mid colonies. They were a combination of short term militia and the newly-formed Continental Army, made up of regulars who were more disciplined and who had signed on for longer terms.

After the Battle of Long Island on August 27th, the entire army was reformed into three divisions. That battle saw a brigade and several regiments decimated. Smallwood’s Marylanders lost over half its regiment killed and another hundred captured while only sixty of Huntington’s regiment made it to safety over Gowanus Creek. It also saw the capture of Division Commander General Sullivan, Brigadier General Stirling, and the death of Long Island militia commander General Woodhull.

The next stage of the invasion was set. Major General Israel Putnam was posted with a division in the city itself. Washington stationed another division under the command of Major General Joseph Spencer, since General Greene was recuperating from malaria, and Major General William Heath had a division at King’s Bridge. At this time the army was just over half its original size.

COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF – George Washington

Aides-de-Camp to General WashingtonColonel William Grayson, of Virginia;Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Cary Jr., of Massachusetts;  Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel B. Webb, of Connecticut; Lieutenant Tench Tilghman, of Pennsylvania.

  • Secretary –  Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Hanson Harrison, of Virginia.
  • Adjutant-General –  Colonel Joseph Reed, of Philadelphia.
  • Quartermaster-General –  Colonel Stephen Moylan, of Pennsylvania.
  • Commissary-General –  Colonel Joseph Trumbull, of Connecticut.
  • Paymaster-General –  Colonel William Palfrey, of Massachusetts.
  • Muster-Master-General –  Colonel Gunning Bedford, of Pennsylvania.
  • Director of the General Hospital –  Doctor John Morgan, of Pennsylvania.
  • Chief Engineer –  Colonel Rufus Putnam, of Massachusetts.

Division Commander – Major General Israel Putnam

  • Aide-de-Camp to Gen. Putnam – Major Aaron Burr
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General James Clinton
  • Brigade Major – David Henly
  • Col. Joseph Reed, Massachusetts, 505
  • Col. Ebenezer Learned, Massachusetts, 521
  • Col. John Bailey, Massachusetts, 503
  • Col. Loammi Baldwin, Massachusetts, 468
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General John Morin Scott
  • Brigade Major Nicholas Fish
  • Col. John Lasher, New York, 510
  • Col. William Malcom, NY, 297
  • Col. Samuel Drake, NY, 459
  • Col. Cornelius Humphrey, NY, 261
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General John Fellows
  • Col. Jonathan Holman, Massachusetts, 606
  • Col. Simeon Cary, Massachusetts, 569
  • Col. Jonathan Smith, Massachusetts, 551
  • Col. John Glover, Massachusetts, 365

Division Commander – Major General William Heath

  • Aides-de-Cmp to Gen. Heath –  Major Thomas Henly, Major Israel Keith
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General Thomas Mifflin
  • Brigade Major Jonathan Mifflin
  • Col. Robert Magaw, Pennsylvania, 480
  • Col. John Shee, Pennsylvania, 496
  • Col. Israel Hutchinson, Massachusetts, 513
  • Col. Paul Dudley Sargent, Massachusetts, 527
  • Col. Andrew Ward, Connecticut, 437
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General George Clinton
  • Brigade Major Albert Pawling
  • Col. Isaac Nichol, New York, 289
  • Col. Thomas Thomas, New York, 354
  • Col. James Swartwout, New York, 364
  • Col. Levi Paulding, New York, 368
  • Col. Morris Graham, New York, 437

Division Commander – Major General Joseph Spencer

  • Aides-de-Camp to General Spencer – Major William Peck, Major Charles Whiting
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General Samuel Holden Parsons
  • Brigade Major – Thomas Dyer
  • Col. Jedediah Huntington, Connecticut, 348
  • Col. Samuel Wyllys, Connecticut, 530
  • Col. John Durkee, Connecticut, 520
  • Col. John Tyler, Connecticut, 569
  • Col. Johathan Ward, Massachusetts, 502
  • Brigade Commander –  Brigadier General James Wadsworth
  • Brigade Major – John Palsgrave Wyllys
  • Col. Gold Selleck Silliman, Connecticut, 415
  • Col Fisher Gay, Connecticut, 449
  • Col. Comfort Sage, Connecticut, 482
  • Col. Samuel Selden, Connecticut, 464
  • Col. William Douglas, Connecticut, 506
  • Col. John Chester, Connecticut, 535
  • Col. Phillip Burr Bradley, Connecticut, 569

Division Commander – Major General John Sullivan

  • Aides-de-Camp to General Sullivan – Major Alexander Scammell, Major Lewis Morris, Jr.
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General Lord Stirling
  • Brigade Major W. S. Livingston
  • Col. William Smallwood, Maryland, 600
  • Col. John Haslet, Delaware, 750
  • Col. Samuel Miles, Pennsylvania, 650
  • Col. Samuel John Atlee, Pennsylvania, 300
  • Lt. Col. Nicholas Lutz, Pennsylvania, 200
  • Lt. Col. Peter Kachlein, Pennsylvania, 200
  • Major Hay, Pennsylvania, 200
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General Alexander McDougall
  • Brigade Major Richard Platt
  • Col. Late McDougall, New York, 428
  • Col. Rudolph Ritzeman, New York, 434
  • Col. Charles Webb, Connecticut, 542
  • Col. Jonathan Brewer, Articifers
  • Skilled craftsmen responsible for upkeep of small arms

Division Commander – Major General Nathaniel Greene

  • Aides-de-Camp to General Greene  Major William Blodgett, Major Willaim S. Livingston
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General John Nixon
  • Brigade Major Daniel Box
  • Col. Edward Hand, Pennsylvania, 288
  • Col. James Mitchell Varnum, Rhode Island, 391
  • Col. Daniel Hitchcock, Rhode Island, 368
  • Col. Late Nixon, Massachusetts, 419
  • Col. William Prescott, Massachusetts, 399
  • Col. Moses Little, Massachusetts, 453
  • Brigade Commander – Brigadier General Nathaniel Heard
  • Brigade Major Peter Gordon
  • Col. David Forman, New Jersey, 372
  • Col. Phillip Johnston, New Jersey, 235
  • Col. Ephrim Martin, New Jersey, 382
  • Col. Silas Newcomb, New Jersey, 336
  • Col. Phillip Van Cortlandt, New Jersey, 269
  • Brigade Commander – General Oliver Wolcott
  • Connecticut Militia.  Each regiment had approximately 350 men
  • Col. Thompson
  • Col. Hinman
  • Col. Pettibone
  • Col. Cooke
  • Col. Talcott
  • Col. Chapman
  • Col. Baldwin
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Mead
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Pitkin
  • Major Strong
  • Major Newberry
  • Brigade Commander – General Nathaniel Woodhull
  • Brigade Major Jonathan Lawrence
  • Col. Josiah Smith                      Long Island      250
  • Col. Jeronimus Remsen             LI         200

Artillery – Commander Colonel Henry Knox           Massachusetts  406

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Johnston, Henry P.  The Campaign of 1776 around New York and Brooklyn. New York:  S. W. Green Printer,  1878.

Schecter, Barnet.  The Battle for New York. New York: Walker Press, 2002.

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Comments 2

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    • Thank you for your kind comment. I try to research mainly though the archives to dig up first hand accounts to fact check historical texts and the internet. Case in point – read my latest article about Alexander Hamilton who, according to most historical texts and hundreds of internet sites – the hero of the Battle of White Plains – slight problem – Hamilton’s son, back in the mid 1800’s made it all up to promote his father and sell more books. Check out the Shades of Liberty Series, book one is up on kindle and soon on paperback. You can click the icon on any of my articles. Thanks again. Harry

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