Child Soldiers, Then and Now, Part 2

In the 14th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army, twelve-year-old Private Joseph Moseley wore a uniform, carried a firearm that was probably taller than he was, and was paid six and two-thirds dollars per month. His two teenage brothers were also in the regiment. At home, the Moseley boys had left behind a mother widowed for eight years, and a brother and sister both less than ten years old.

Joseph joined the 14th Virginia in early 1777. He was discharged after a year, in February 1778, just after his thirteenth birthday. During his year of service, the regiment participated in major battles: Brandywine and Germantown. Both battles were losses for the Continentals. Joseph may have endured winter camp at Valley Forge. He definitely saw morale in the Continental Army at its lowest point, before the French, the Spanish, the Dutch, and Baron von Steuben offered their aid and changed the course of the war.

Joseph Moseley was my great, great, great-grandfather. Until last week, when specific research details finally came to light, my family thought that Joseph had joined a militia unit as an older teen at the end of the war and spent a year performing low-profile duties for the men, such as gathering firewood, cleaning weapons, and digging latrines. We were stunned by the truth of a twelve-year-old boy in uniform who looked across battlefields at hundreds of disciplined redcoats with fixed bayonets.

Joseph's reasons for enlisting are among those found in the bulleted list from yesterday's post, disturbing echoes of the reasons why children enlist today. To imagine that he was the only child soldier in the Continental Army would be naïveté. He and countless other boys picked up the firearms of dead men and continued the fight for the Continentals. In doing so, they extended an armed conflict for six more years. And since our "Revolutionary War" was but one theater of a world war, the negative impact on the global economy was staggering.

Nations and factions have been using child soldiers for thousands of years. The effect on the children is a no-brainer. Joseph Moseley and the boys who fought at his side had no childhood. At the least, they suffered from some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives, even if they volunteered for duty and were discharged with no physical injuries.

Today's child soldiers in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East are all of humanity's casualties. They show us the costs of war, no matter how hard we try to look elsewhere. The horrific imagery of child soldiers will continue to haunt us until we learn this lesson from history.

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Child Soldiers, Then and Now, Part 1

Among the most horrific, haunting images recorded from war around the globe are those of vacant-eyed children in their early teens or even younger holding semi-automatic weapons, perhaps garbed in a paramilitary unit's uniform. In the United States, these images batter a belief system that children should be in a nurturing home environment, enjoying the company of friends after school, taking clarinet lessons, playing softball. They should be allowed to be kids and dream.

Enlisting children as soldiers permits the extension of armed conflict long after a desperate nation or faction's supply of adult combatants has been exhausted. The global costs are astronomical. Although some children are forced to join armed groups, according to The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, the majority of these children volunteer for the following reasons:

  • Survival
  • Desire to avenge the death of relatives
  • Poverty and lack of access to education or work (thus the need for income
  • Desire for power, status, and social recognition
  • Pressure from family or peers
  • Desire to honor a family tradition
  • Desire to escape domestic violence (and for girls an arranged marriage

What does the topic of child soldiers have to do with the American War of Independence? In the United States, we tell ourselves that we don't put our young children in uniform, that such extreme measures happen elsewhere, in distant lands. But Americans have inherited the bloody legacy of young children in the military.

We have the "quaint" pictures of boys climbing ratlines on navy ships in the Civil War and the American War of Independence, and drummer boys in both wars. Or the not-so-quaint pictures of ragged civilian children traveling with an army unit as camp followers. Did children camp followers, musicians, and sailors escape the bullets and bayonets? No.

Children don't escape war.

In the autumn of 1776, two years into the American War of Independence, the fight was going poorly for the Continentals. A desperate Congress went to recruitment extremes, determined to raise an army of eighty-eight infantry regiments, intending that the regiments serve for the duration of the war. A boy named Joseph Moseley answered the recruitment call in March 1777 and enlisted as a Continental private in the newly made 14th Virginia Regiment. Joseph had just turned twelve years old.

I invite you to return to my blog tomorrow and learn his story.

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The Forensic Reconstruction of George Washington, Part 2

For the traveling exhibit “Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon,” Dr. Jeffrey H. Schwartz, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Pittsburgh forensically recreated accurate, life-sized figures of George Washington at the ages of 19, 45, and 57. The catch was that Schwartz wasn’t allowed access to Washington’s bones.

In my previous blog post, I described the materials and techniques Schwartz used to surmount this challenge. Although some of the more exacting details that I mention below are only visible in close-up photographs of each figure’s facial features, for those who study body language, Schwartz’s overall impressions do come through. Let’s take a look at the results.

George Washington, age 57Schwartz says that Washington on Inauguration Day, at the age of 57, was the easiest figure to create. Just a few years earlier, Jean-Antoine Houdon had created a three-dimensional life mask, bust, and statue of Washington: a gift to any forensic anthropologist. When Washington took the Oath of Office, he had only one natural tooth in his mouth. Since tooth loss softens the jaw line, Schwartz gave Washington an amorphous jaw line. He also gave him the puckered lips of an older man. For the inauguration, Washington, who never wore a wig, had his own hair powdered.

George Washington, age 45Washington at Valley Forge, age 45, was more difficult for Schwartz to capture. At this point in his life, the Commander of the Continental Army still had some teeth in the front of his mouth, so he didn’t have the taut lips of a man trying to hold a full set of 18th-century dentures in his mouth without the help of a product like Polygrip. Schwartz also wanted to capture Washington’s charisma, the element about him that helped him hold the army together through that bitterly cold winter. Thus Washington has “tired eyes” with crows feet, and between his eyes, his brow is furrowed. Note how Washington’s feet hang below the torso of his horse. Horses in the 18th century were smaller than they are now, however, sources report that Washington’s limbs were so long and lanky that he could wrap his legs around the belly of his horse, thus contributing to his excellent equestrian skills.

George Washington, age 19The 19-year-old Washington, depicted in this image as surveying in the wilderness, has a pronounced angle in his back jaw because he still has all his teeth. He also has more fullness in his cheeks, a smaller nose and ears, and fuller lips than the older versions of himself. Washington was well-known for enjoying his time in the wilderness. Therefore, Schwartz gave the young Washington a smile behind his eyes, and lips tilted up ever so slightly at the corners, as if he’s delighting in his time with nature, musing that his future looks bright.

What do you think of Jeffrey Schwartz’s creations?

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The Forensic Reconstruction of George Washington, Part 1

How is it possible to forensically create an accurate, life-sized figure of someone long dead without having access to the deceased’s bones? The traveling museum exhibit, “Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon,” features three life-sized figures … Continue reading

Georgian Secrets: Ladies’ Undergarments During the American War of Independence

Readers occasionally ask me what ladies of the late 18th century wore for underwear beneath those lovely gowns and petticoats. Did they wear panties? What made their hips so huge and their torsos look like tubes?  On Sunday 19 September, … Continue reading