On this day in 1775, George Washington rides out in front of the American troops gathered at Cambridge common in Massachusetts and draws his sword, formally taking command of the Continental Army. Washington, a prominent Virginia planter and veteran of the French and Indian War, had been appointed commander in chief by the Continental Congress two weeks before. In agreeing to serve the American colonies in their war for independence, he declined to accept payment for his services beyond reimbursement of future expenses.
The Army of which Washington formally took command on July 3, 1775, he described as "a mixed multitude of people under very little discipline, order or government." Out of this mixed multitude, Washington set out to create an Army shaped in large part on the British image. Basing his observations on his experience with British regulars during the French and Indian War, he wrote: "Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak and esteem to all."
Washington and his staff made strenuous efforts to halt the random comings and goings of officers and men and to institute regular roll calls and strength returns. Suspicious of the "leveling" tendencies of the New Englanders, Washington made the distinction between officers and enlisted men more rigid. He introduced various punishments such as the lash, pillory, wooden horse, and drumming out of camp along with courts-martials.