Dangerous Prisoners: Confining the Convention Army in American Space during the American Revolution
Halverson, Sean C.
AdvisorHay, William Anthony
Hersey, Mark D.
This dissertation argues that American revolutionaries used America’s geographic space to defeat, secure, supply, and neutralize the Convention Army during the American Revolution, which contributed to their victory over the British after the Continental Congress repudiated the Convention of Saratoga in January of 1778. The study traces how the Americans used space as a means to first defeat and then control a dangerous army of prisoners. American forces first strategically used America’s space to capture Lieutenant General John Burgoyne’s army by systematically retreating to avoid a decisive battle. Following the Convention Army’s capture, the Continental Army marched the captives from New York to Massachusetts where space temporarily became the central problem because the Americans lacked the capacity, housing, and provisions to secure their first captive army. Thus the prisoners became a threatening nuisance. The Continental Congress turned to America’s space as a strategic means by placing the Convention Army under congressional authority and ordered the captives moved from Massachusetts to Virginia. The Revolutionaries under General George Washington’s supervision took advantage of America’s geographic space by covertly moving the Convention Army to contain and supply it far from their adversary. Subsequently, they made use of America’s space as an asset to control the prisoners in the rural Virginian countryside at Camp Albemarle, a great distance from the British and heavily populated areas. During the war’s later years, Congress and state governments relied on America’s space to secure large numbers of the prisoners to hold potential reinforcements from the British by dispersing them to makeshift encampments across the countryside. The Convention Army’s defeat and detention suggests America’s space contributed to shaping the conflict and its outcome in the Revolutionaries’ favor by undermining a superior invader. The American revolutionaries’ use of space allowed them to more securely hold large numbers of prisoners and decreased the British army’s capacity to wage war in America.