The Marechausee Was Not a Minuet
By Lieut. Ron Puza - Troop of Marechaussee
Through the harsh winter of 1778 at Valley Forge, General Washington worked on plans to reorganize his bedraggled Army. Out of this reorganization, congress approved the establishment of a permanent corps of provosts, later known as The Marechaussee (styled after a French provost corps of that name).
The corps was organized as follows:
|1||Captain of Provosts|
|1||Qtr. Master Serjt.|
|43||Provosts or Privates|
On June 6, 1778, Major General Natanael Greene received the following correspondence from Washington.
To MAJOR GENERAL NATHANAEL GREENE
Head Quarters, June 6, 1778
Sir: Inclosed is a copy of the establishment of the Marechausee, as passed in Congress the 20th. Ulto. This Corps is to be armed and accoutred in the manner of Light Dragoons. You will therefore provide with all possible expedition sixty three Horses, with proper Saddles and bridles. As the nature of the duty will principally require patroling within the distance of a mile from the pickets, the horses which were lately furnished by the State of Pennsylvania may serve the purpose, and such other horses may be taken to complete the number as are rather capable of fatigue, than possessed of such qualities as would recommend them for the Corps of Cavalry.
Capt. Heer who is to command this Corps, will have immediate occasion for one horse, which you will order to be delivered to him, the rest are only to be kept apart so as to be ready when the men are draughted and furnished with Clothes. I am, etc.
Two months later when Capt. Von Heer had been unable to get recruits, Congress authorized a bounty to raise the required troop. The bounty varied, as did the spelling of the troop's name, noted in this example of the enlistment paper.
In October of 1778, the following general orders were issued.
Head Quarters, Frederick'sburgh, Sunday, October 11, 1778
ParoleAmiensCountersigns Abington Acton
The following summary of the duties of the Marechausie Corps commanded by Captn. V. Heer is published for the in formation of the Army at large. The General hopes that the institution, by putting men on their Guard will operate more in preventing than punihing Crimes.
While the Army is encamped the Officers of this Corps are to patrole the Camp and it's neighborhood for the purpose of apprehending Deserters, Marauders, Drunkards, Rioters and Staglers under which last denomination are included all soldiers who are found beyond the nearest Picquets in front of the Flanks and beyond the distance of one mile estimated from the Center of the Encampment, in the rear; They are also to apprehend all other soldiers that may be detected in a Violation of General orders;
All Countrymen and Strangers whose Appearance or Manners excite Suspicion of their being Spies, and are not furnished with Passes either from some General Officer, the Quarter Master General or the Commissaries General of Provision or Forage. The Officers of this Corps are directed not to apprehend any Offender who may be within the Encampment of his own Regiment, as it is expected that the Regimental Quarter-Guard will in that Case secure the Offender.
Captain Von Heer is to keep an exact List of all licensed Sutlers and confine any follower of the Army who may presume to suttle without proper leave. Every newly appointed Sutler is therefore to signify his Appointment to Captain V. Heer and produce a proper Certificate thereof.
On a day of march this Corps with the Provost Guard is to remain on the old ground 'till the Columns and Baggage have moved off, in order to secure all such soldiers as have loitered in Camp and the officers are to see that the soldiers and Women who march with the baggage do not transgress the General Orders made for their Government; They will likewise secure all straglers on the march, treating in this light all soldiers absent from their Platoons without a Non Commissioned Officer to conduct them. On a day of battle the Marechausie will be posted in the Rear of the Second Line or Reserve in order to secure Fugitives.
The Commander in Chief strictly forbids all persons whatever to do or say anything that may tend to impede the Officers of this Corps in the Execution of their duty; On the contrary, He requires that they may be respected and assisted, as good order and discipline will be much promoted by the full Exercise of their office.
If any offender attempts to escape or presumes to make any resistance he will incur double punishment and all persons belonging to the Army are required to succour any part of the Marechausie Corps that may be opposed in the Prosecution of their duty.
The Captain of the Marechausie will have the usual Provost Guard drawn from the line near him and under his Direction for the Security of the Prisoners. He is every morning to deliver a written report of the Persons committed the receding day and the charges against them to the Adjutant General who will have proper Courts Martial held for their trial; This is to be considered as a standing order and as such to be published in the different Parts of the Army. The Adjutants of Regiments are to have it frequently read to the men, that by being reminded of what is prohibited and the Certainty of punishment they may avoid the one and the other.
It appears that the Marechaussee was uniformed as light dragoons in the following manner: blue coats with yellow facings and weskits, leather breeches, boots and leather helmets.
Captain Von Heer was a resident of Reading, PA in Berks County, and a native of Germany. Indeed, although the troop was raised in Pennsylvania, except for a lieutenant and a trooper who were Swiss, and a trooper who was a Mohawk Indian, all were natives of Germany. Seven were Hessians, but, by the nature of the organization and its duties, it is extremely unlikely that they would have been deserters from Hessian units.
The troop appears to have served well, despite shortages of horses, uniforms, and supplies. Some troopers served dismounted as a direct result of the shortages, at times being assigned to other units. These stresses resulted in Von Heer on occasion being sanctioned for his behavior. One such court martial was convened on Oct. 21, 1779.
At the General Court Martial whereof Colo. Bradford is President, 21st. ultimo, Captain Von Heer was tried.
1st "For unofficer and ungentlemanlike conduct in abusing David Parks, an inhabitant of Pennsylvania and ordering said Parks's waggoner to be whipped.
2ndly. For defrauding the United States in converting two public horses to his own private property without proper authority" and acquitted of the charge of unofficer and ungentlemanlike conduct in abusing David Parks an inhabitant of Pennsylvania.
The Court are of opinion that Captain Von Heer is guilty of ordering David Parks's Waggoner to be whipp'd, which conduct was unofficerlike and unjustifiable being a breach of Article 5th, Section 18th. of the rules and articles of war; They acquit him of the 2nd. charge and sentence him to be reprimanded in General orders.
The General approves the sentence. There does not appear to have been sufficient provocation for the treatment of said Parks, but he principally blames a want of circumspection in Captain Von Heer: An officer impressed with the delicacy of this own character should avoid putting himself in a situation that exposes him to intrusion and insults; which often proceed from an ignorance of the rules of decorum and which lead to such disagreeable disputes and violences.
Despite all of the apparent problems in policing America's first Army, the Marechausee developed into a well-disciplined and essential part of the Army, validated by this inspection report at Camp Verplanks Point, Oct. 23, 1782.
The Corps of Vn. Heer is in perfect good Order the Attention of this Officer deserves my particular Notice, his Men are well Armed and Accoutred, Horses are fit for Service and both Men & Horses are disciplined.
The Corps was furloughed on June 13, 1783, at camp near New Windsor, NY, and marched back to Pennsylvania. A small detachment, a sergeant, a corporal, and eight provosts (dispatch riders and orderlies) remained with Washington, attached to his guard until the following October. The first chapter in the history of America's first military police was thus ended.
By the end of the war, Von Heer was promoted to Major. He applied for and received a pension of half pay and, like other officers, became a member of The Society of Cincinatti. His devotion and service to his adopted country was never questioned. The pride he instilled in his corps is still valued by the members of the Army today, who wear the insignia of the crossed flint lock pistols.
Copyright © 1996 Ron Puza. All rights reserved.