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Massachusetts Line

Massachusetts Line

MASSACHUSETTS LINE. Massachusetts furnished more regiments to the Continental Army than any other state, and the story of its line is the most complex. Although the Provincial Congress was in the process of planning a "Constitutional Army" to keep watch over the royal forces in Boston in early 1775, the fighting at Lexington and Concord caught it by surprise. Minutemen and militia had already set up siege lines around the port by the time that the Committee of Safety began to take charge, on 21 April 1775. The Committee voted to enlist 8,000 of those men and organize them into regiments subject to approval when the Provincial Congress reassembled. Two months later, on 14 June, when the Continental Congress adopted the existing forces as the Continental army, the colony still was unable to give precise information on exactly what units existed and how many men they contained. As it turned out, they had created twenty-three infantry regiments and one of artillery. These carried the names of their colonels. Massachusetts also furnished Henry Knox's Artillery Regiment and the First Continental Artillery, neither of which were part of the Massachusetts Line.

On 1 January 1776 the reorganized and reenlisted infantrymen became Sixteen of the numbered Continental Regiments: 3d, 4th, 6th, 7th, 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 21st, 23d, 24th, 25th, 26th, and 27th. The 1777 quota established by the Continental Congress dropped to fifteen regiments, mostly by consolidating and reorganizing existing units. The old Twelfth and Fourteenth Regiments disbanded and four new units were formed, again drawing heavily on veterans. In marked contrast to the other states, the Massachusetts units did not take numbers until 1 August 1779, as the army attempted to sort out competing claims to seniority. The quota fell to ten regiments in 1781, to eight on 1 January 1783, and to four on 15 June of that year, when the men who had enlisted for the duration of the war were sent home on furlough. On 3 November 1783 the entire infantry contingent of the Continental Army dropped to the 500 Massachusetts men of Jackson's Continental Regiment in garrison at West Point. That unit went home on 20 June 1784.

Because Boston had been under British occupation when Massachusetts raised its forces in 1775 and 1776, its population had not been given the responsibility for forming any units. Individuals who had escaped from the city served, but only as individuals. When the 1777 reorganization took place, the absence of existing Boston units meant that it was again omitted. But since the city was now free and had made substantial progress in its recovery, General George Washington remedied the omission by allocating three additional Continental Regiments to Massachusetts officers, with the expectation that they would concentrate their recruiting efforts in Boston. Henley's, Henry Jackson's and Lee's had trouble reaching full strength, forming only five, seven, and six companies respectively. They formed a provisional group which joined the main army in 1777, leaving recruiters behind. Late in October the provisional formation broke up and its troops were assigned to Jackson's and Lee's units, while the men still in Boston became Henley's. On 9 April 1779 Washington amalgamated the three units under Jackson. On 24 July 1780 the state adopted Jackson's unit and it joined the line as the Sixteenth Massachusetts Regiment.

SEE ALSO Knox's "Noble Train of Artillery"; Minutemen.


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