FLYING CAMP. July-November 1776. When the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, the Americans were faced with the need to defend widely scattered areas where the enemy might strike next. Part of their solution was the establishment of a "flying camp," the term being a literal translation of the French camp volant, which, in the military terminology of the day, meant a mobile, strategic reserve. Washington met with Congress and with specially appointed committees between 24 May and 4 June 1776 to discuss plans for future military action. One decision was that Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania would furnish until December 1776 a total of ten thousand men from their militias to constitute a flying camp that, unlike the militia, could be ordered to go where it was needed. Congressional authorization came on 3 June, Hugh Mercer was designated commander, and the newly appointed brigadier general reported to New York City on 3 July to assume his duties with much energy. Men arrived slowly, however, and they all lacked training; by 25 July, Mercer had only three thousand men in eastern New Jersey, mostly at Perth Amboy. When Washington called for two thousand men to assist in the fortification of New York City, Mercer was hard put to find this number of reliable soldiers.
Units of the Flying Camp were stationed from Amboy to Long Island before and after the British attacked there on 27 August 1776. Elements of five battalions of the Pennsylvania Flying Camp fought well at Long Island, as did several companies of the Maryland Flying Camp at Harlem Heights (16 September). The Flying Camp's most notable exploit was participating in the gallant defense of Fort Washington on 16 November, where four Pennsylvania battalions were overwhelmed and captured by the British and Hessian assault. Most of the two to three thousand men who followed Washington and Greene out of Fort Lee on 18 November were from the Flying Camp. On 30 November the Flying Camp came to an end when its final two thousand enlistments expired, although few soldiers actually remained in the field by that point. Washington was disappointed by the small number that had reported to Mercer's camp at Amboy in late November.
The Flying Camp was plagued throughout its short existence by the same lack of organization, supply, and training that afflicted Continental army and other state units. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile attempt to tap the militia to create a ready source of reinforcements for the field army. The pace of operations in the second half of 1776 around New York City was too rapid to allow it time to prepare adequately for active service.
Devine, Francis E. "The Pennsylvania Flying Camp, July-November 1776." Pennsylvania History 46 (1979): 59-78.
Washington, George. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. Vol. 5: June-August 1776. Edited by W. W. Abbot et al. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993.
――――――. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. Vol. 6: August-October 1776. Edited by Dorothy Twohig et al. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994.
――――――. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series. Vol. 7: October 1776–January 1777. Edited by Dorothy Twohig et al. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997.
revised by Harold E. Selesky