Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Final advance on the British works at Gloucester: Warner Hall, The Battle of the Hook, 1781

The Virginia Brigade advances on the Crown's lines at Gloucester,
led by the 3d Dragoons and squadron of the Marquis d'Lauzun.

Video of the advance of the Allied Forces under General Weedon and the Marquis de Choisy here:  First Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Franco-American Boat Landing, Battle of the Hook: Gloucester, Virginia: 1781

Franco-American Landing at Warner Hall:  Battle of the Hook

         The First Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line hosted the recreation of the October act ions against Tarleton and Company at Gloucester Point a series of engagements that ultimately took away options for Cornwallis across the river at Yorktown in 1781.  Video of the amphibious landing is here:  Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

White Oak Canyon Scout: Testing your kit in foul weather

A Virginia Spy makes his way to a cold camp.  In the rain, I keep my lock under my arm,
instead of keeping my firing hand on over the wrist.  I keep the muzzle down, to reduce the
amount of moisture in the barrel (I never put a tompion on a loaded firelock).
                 "I was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia in 1764, and moved to the Clinch with my father when it was yet Botetourt County (prior to 1773). I was called out as a volunteer at Blackmore's Fort under Captain Joseph Martin in the spring of 1776, while I was yet a boy, but well grown." 
-Alexander Ritchie, Indian Spy[1]

               It is a rainy weekend in Virginia.  Not a day for a scout, but perfect weather for war.  You see, rain muffles the sounds of movement.  It is good weather in which to attack...provided you can keep your powder and lock dry.  That was the aim of this scout.  I am a lone "Spy" on the Virginia frontier.  It could be 1763 or 1793.  Either way there were men who would go out alone in times of trouble to sit in silence and watch the passes though which the war paths crossed.

              My aim was to test my equipment.  I want to stay dry, be unseen, and be able to fight and withdraw.  Specifically, I want to test the waterproofing on my moccasins and for my firelock.  For my moccasins I used a combination of beeswax and neet's foot oil.  Lard was used during the 1800's and reapplying grease to your moccasins was a daily chore.  Part of looking after your acoutrements.  The first time I greased this particular pair, I ensured that my concoction was hot to allow it to permeate into the leather.  Now, I simply slather it on and work it in.

The heights offered  poor visibility of the pass in such dense brush. 
There's no good place to hunker down and nothing to cover my back.

                  "...In this fort there was constantly about 20 or 25 men besides the spies. The Indians were not so troublesome in the immediate vicinity of Moore's fort, but they were more troublesome lower down on Clinch and Powell's Valley. In August the Wyandots [sic, Wendat] from the north appeared in our vicinity. When out he saw Indian sign. Three persons only were killed in his neighborhood, to wit: John English's wife, Molly and two of her little boys. The Indians retreated down Sandy and they were pursued by the spies as well as the others who remained in the fort to guard it. We were unable to overtake the Indians. They had stole some horses. These are the particular circumstances that I now recollect of. The spies had particular sections allotted to them, where the war paths of the Indians passed, and some time we would not return unless Indian signs were seen for a month, but in August and September the Indians were always most troublesome in stealing, murdering, and burning. The spies below had a running fight with the Indians and they retreated. This was with the lower squads..."

                                                                          James Fraley, Clinch Spies c.1779[2]

                  The second goal was to keep my firelock dry.  This I did by loading down in the "settlements" at the base of the trail and applying my mixture of beeswax and turpentine (a waxy paste) around the pan, once the hammer (frizzen) was seated firmly on top (after loading).  I am careful not to get any wax on the strikeface of the hammer.  I then cover the lock with my cow's knee.  I would note that the use of beeswax and turpentine (camphor) rubbed into the barrel also makes an excellent rust preventative.  See my previous post on Period Methods for Cleaning your Firelock.

Greased moccasins lined with an old blanket and a greased cow's knee. 
These are virtually impermeable and keep feet and firelock in working order.

                  My  cow's knee is simply two pieces of scrap leather (from the moccasin project) that are sewn together to fit snugly over the lock.  Mine extends from just behind the swell in the stock (in front) to cover below the thumb escutcheon (in rear)  It is tied in front and back with leather thongs or whangs.  I tie it tight in back and just wrap the thongs around the stock in front.  This way I can pull it on and off to load/fire without taking the who off the firelock.

                 I took with me the following:

Powder Horn
Shot pouch (Shot, ball, turn screw and vise, patches, oil, worm, vent pick, whisk, rag, beeswax mixture)

Blanket and Tumpline, Canteen, Tomahawk
Knapsack (This is waxed with pure beeswax, and the contents say bone dry):  Knitted cap, Cup, spoon, food (venison, bread, cornmeal, tea), spare stockings, moccasin grease

I wore:  Body Shirt, waistcoat, trowsers, stockings, leather leggings (also well greased and tied at the knee with fingerwoven garters) moccasins, flopped hat, kerchief, leather belt, and hunting shirt.

I carry my firemaking kit and some food in my waistcoat pockets.
A cold camp in the lee of a rock.
              I chose a spot where I could see the trail, the opposite ridgeline, and was protected from behind.  This would have been a cold camp, that is no fire.  A meal of bread and dried venison, water.  The rock sheltered me from the rain and wind, while allowing me to see the trail and valley below.

Crossing White Oak Creek again...

          Perhaps I see a war party now, maybe a day or two later.  As a spy, I am to warn the settlements, not engage a warparty coming through the pass.  Nevertheless, my firelock must be ready.  As I move across the creek, they are within earshot, the metal of my tin military canteen clanks against the head of my tomahawk.    I know they are alerted by the whoop I hear.  I slip the cow's knee off the lock.  The pan is still sealed.  I tree and fire as the first warrior comes into view.  A slow ignition, but the charge is touched off.  The first brave drops, but a second overtakes him.  I leap up from my tree and scramble down the creek bed, shielding my pan under my arm and reloading.  A second shot.  This one a faster ignition.  The warriors pull back to regroup.  My lock has stayed dry despite the rain and I am back down the valley to the settlement

        I  am in fair shape once I take off my leggings and hunting shirt.  My feet are dry after deluge and submersion in the creek when I skedaddled.  My firelock ignited satisfactorily (albeit only twice) in a downpour.  A pretty successful day.  The only drawback was the reason I had to fire in the first place.  That noisy tin canteen...this made me think, wood is clearly better than tin for this sort of work.  I'm a scout west of the Blue Ridge...would I have a military pattern water carrier.  Probably not.  Perhaps a glass bottle?  Perhaps a wooden rundlet?  Need to look into that.  I think a tin canteen on a frontier scout is neither quiet not least I've proven the first.

[1] Pension Papers of Alexander Ritchie, Claiborne County, TN (1835), R-8784.

[2] Pension Papers of James Fraley, Floyd County, KY (1834),, accessed 06 Oct 13.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Extant British Blanket c. 1776

Note the two single yarn blue stripes along the edge,
faded broad arrow and GR cipher.

                   This blanket is in the collections of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society, donated by the descendant of Captain Gershom Bradford. Check out the entire blog post:  Evacuation Day and a Discarded British Blanket at Historical Digression.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In search of historical markers: the Gunpowder Incident, Gloucester Point...

The Magazine at Williamsburg:  Provincial or Royal property?
          I have always been fascinated by the events of spring, 1775 in Virginia, to which we today refer as the Gunpoweder Incident.  Generally speaking, this involved Royal Governor Lord Dunmore's authorization for Royal Navy personnel to confiscate provincial arms powder stores in Williamsburg, securing them aboard Royal Navy shipping. As events unfolded there are political agitators (Patrick Henry), enraged gun-toting farmers (the Hanover Militia) and provincial bureacrats (Receiver General Richard Corbin) caught up in the fury.  What's not to like, this is the kind of stuff  worthy of the Drudge Report!

Virginia Gazette [1]
         I am currently conducting research into routes, sites and events associated with the Gunpowder Incident (1775) and the march South to Gloucester (1781) in planning preservation march events.  In my search I came across a helpful site (link), Colonial that locates State Highway Historical Markers.  Pretty useful, and user friendly!

Historical Marker, Site Map locator:  A Useful tool
Hope you enjoy this tool as much as I did.  Apparently, if we march to Laneville to demand payment from Richard Corbin (Provincial Receiver General) for the gunpowder, we're crossing the Pamunkey and Mattaponi in flatboats!

[1] Virginia Gazette.  Retrieved from

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

18th century trousers for ne'er-do-wells, if the shoe fits...

Jack and Ostler in trousers [1]  Two of my
favorite recurring "ne'er-do-wells".
       ...And so, on to trousers, or is it trowsers?  I find it interesting that, like the sleeved waistcoat/stablejacket of a few weeks past, we find the sailor and the ostler dressed in similar fashion.   Apparently cartoonists liked this juxtaposition as well.  Perhaps because there was an on-going competition for the uppermost of the disenfranchised and lampooned of the bottom two rungs of the social order?

      In any event, I decided to make a pair of trowsers that would be appropriate to the farrier, farmer, mechanick and Jack Tar.  There are actually a lot of visual references for the last half of the 18th c, which led me to make a pair that were close fitting and hemmed above the ankle (as the vast majority seem to have been).

Details from "An Englishman" [2], "The Jealous Clown"[3], "Jemmy's Return"[4]
     You will note from all three examples that the petticoats are under siege.  The randiness of Jack Tar was a well-liked theme, for certain.  In any event, the fit of breeches and trousers in extant art and frustrating experience has shown that I am better off making my own patterns to achieve the proper fit.  This I did on brown paper after taking detailed measurements.  The initial piecing went well enough, with a tow linen and some striped lined scraps for the lining.  The exception to "well enough" were the pockets and the waistband.

l-r 1.  Pinning the interior pockets, 2.  Side pocket detail,
3.  Fall Front, 4.  Rear gusset, eyelets.
      Making the pockets inside out and backward caused me to break out the seam ripper more than once.  I also had to reduce the waistband and increase one pleat on the rear panels...that's a good thing!  Yes you do see machine zig zag in the upper left, I only had four days to work on these before Battersea.  Normally I do a hand blanket stitch to prevent the linen from fraying.

A "Ne'er do well" at Battersea, Petersburg, Virginia
Photo Credit:  Carson [5]

      In the end, the trousers were ready for the Battersea event.  I'm happy to say received a great compliment second hand, "Who is that guy from the First Virginia?  He looks like he actually works in his clothes."  He obviously didn't know about the zig-zag that lieth beneath.
      I'm loath to share that-the compliment, that is, but it helps me to make a point about some vitriolic posts I've seen online recently directed at newcomers.   At eighteen I farbtastically showed up to an ACW event in Williamsburg in a poly-wool blend non-1862 uniform with a fur bowie-knife scabbard. I know, I know!  Falling in with a "hardcore-progressive-campaigner unit", the snide comments made me actually do the research to scrap that and better my ACW impression-but then again I have tough skin...not everyone does.  I always remember that feeling when I see clothes that don't fit right, or accoutrements that are clearly off the rack from a sutler, or the proverbial stainless steel canteen or haversack-at-the-knees.  I'm still learning (after nineteen years in living history), which is the nice thing about seeing other "maker's" blogs for the "how to" and the rapid proliferation of online repositories (see links to the right) for the "why-for".  But I hope that I complement and encourage, more than tear down or create division (and give credit where credit is deserved).


       "These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him:  A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood.  An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."

                                                                  -Proverbs 6:16-19

[1] Newton, Richard. (1797), The Long Horse., Laurie and Whittle, London.  Retrieved from

[2] Dighton, Robert. (1781),  An Englishman taking a French Privateer, Carrington Bowles, London.    

[3] Collet, John. (1778), The Sailor's Present or the Jealous Clown, Carrington Bowles, London.

[4]  Artist unknown.  (1787), Jemmy's Return., Robert Sayer, Fleet Street, London.  Retrieved from

[5] Carson, Stephanie (2013) Retrieved from

Monday, April 29, 2013

Battersea Plantation: Petersburg, Virginia

Dragoon demonstration photo:  Carson[1]  Additional excellent
photography by Ms. Carson can be enjoyed at her webpage.
          From the 19th to the 21st of April, the Battersea Foundation and the 7th Virginia hosted the recreation of the 1781 Battle of Petersburg.  The historical battle pitted militia under Muhlenberg and Von Steuben against Crown forces under Phillips.  Although a loss for the Americans, the battle served as a delaying action.  Lafayette took advantage of the resulting British operational pause to fortify Richmond and prevent an assault on the capital of Virginia.

Battersea [2].
         Battersea was the home of John Banister,  and at various times during 1781 it begrudgingly played host to Cornwallis and Tarleton's Legion.

         Banister was a signer of the Articles of Confederation and owned the successful Banister Saw Mills, which was converted to gunpowder production, bakery and cooperage in support of the Commonwealth during the Revolution.

Christening the 2 pounder Battalion Gun:  "Elizabeth"

An embattled Virginia farmer [3]

Militia in open order do not stand for long... 
they don't stand long in locked formation either, for that matter.

A vedette from Tarleton's Legion.   The reason militia don't stand long.

      Having faced dragoons at Battersea, and without a bayonet, I can say that self preservation will win out when given the option to stand or run in the face of cavalry.   They look mighty big from the ground when your firelock is unloaded.  Militia interpret all orders as option, as a matter of course.
Crown Forces, note the bodies of artillery-men surrounding the gun to their rear.
      This was a great event, though small.  The battlefield sweeps in an arc around the lawn allowing not only an interesting scenario for the engaged forces (cannon and cavalry took part), but allows the spectators to veiw the entire action across about a quarter of a mile. 

      Several sutlers, joiners, acrobats and artist were on hand to support the Battersea Foundation.   Hats of to the Battersea Foundation and Mike Cecere (7th Virginia) for one of the most enjoyable events I have experienced in quite a while.

Camp of the Virginia Militia
             Please visit the Foundation's web page for more on the efforts to restore this beautiful palladian style country house.


[1] Carson, Stephanie (2013).  Retrived from

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Chapbooks: For the middling and mechanicks

Newbury's Pretty Little Pocketbook (1744/1787).

               While searching for references on trap-ball, stool-ball, and rounders (predecessors of cricket and baseball) I came across a collection of chapbooks (a corruption of cheap books) at the Ball State Library. (LINK).  The chapbook spanned all sorts of topics from childrens' literature, religious and political tracts, and...the 18thc century version of the racy novel and was from 8 to 32 pages (one sheet or less).   It is well recorded that the Bible, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress and Foxe's Book of Martyrs were the most widely owned books in the Americas, but perhaps a trademan, soldier, or market hunter might have had one of these in his pocket.  Its very likely. 

University of Guelph, Scotland  (Link)

Nesbitt Chapbook Room, University of Pittsburgh (Link)



Thursday, March 28, 2013

18th Century Military Rations, and the lack thereof...

Foraging:  Washington called it thievery until he used his expanded powers
granted by the Congress during the winter of 1777-1778.  Officially and
unofficially smokehouses and barns were liberated throughout the war.

        "According to the saying of Solomon, hunger will break thro' a Stone Wall. It is therefore a very pleasing Circumstance to the Division under my Command, that there is a probability of their marching. Three Days successively we have been destitute of Bread. Two Days we have been intirely without Meat. It is not to be had from the Commissaries. Whenever we procure Beef, it is of such a vile Quality, as to render it a poor Succerdernium for Food. The Men must be supplied, or they cannot be commanded. … The Complaints are too urgent to pass unnoticed. It is with Pain, that I mention this Distress. I know it will make your Excellency unhappy; But, if you expect the Exertions of virtuous Principles, while your Troops are deprived of the essential Necessaries of Life, your final Disappointment will be great, in Proportion to the Patience, which now astonishes every Man of human Feeling." [1]

                                    -Ltr. of Genl Varnum to Genl Washington, 22 Dec 1777.

        In 1775, the best of intentions were made to adequately supply the soldier and militiman that marched against the Crown forces.  The road to Valley Forge, however, is "paved with good intentions".  Understanding that what was authorized was significantly different from what was issued, it nevertheless gives us a good picture of what was available to the soldier in the most ideally plentiful of conditions.  Furthermore, authorized rations generally seemed to follow similar lines throughout provincial and Continental forces.


         "The Order and Direction from the General Assembly of the Colony of CONNECTICUT to their Commissary, for issuing Provisions to the Troops by them raised for the defence of their rights and privileges. — MAY, 1775.           Three-quarters of a pound of Pork, or one pound of Beef, per diem; Fish three times per week.         One pound of Bread or Flour per diem.         Three pints of Beer per diem, or Spruce sufficient, and nine gallons of Molasses to a Company per week.         Half a pint of Rice, or one pint of Meal; six ounces of Butter; three pints of Peas, or Beans, per week.         One pint of Milk per diem.         Three pounds of Candles to a Company per week.         Twenty-four pounds of Soap, or four Shillings' worth, to a Company per week.        Vinegar, two gallons per Company per week.        Chocolate, six pounds per Company per week.        Sugar, three pounds per Company per week.        One gill of Rum per man, on fatigue days only.   Provision made for the Hospital at discretion of the Physicians and Surgeons. The Rations will cost — when Pork is issued, eleven pence per diem; when fresh Beef, ten pence."[2] 


       "In Provincial Congress, Watertown, June 10, 1775.   Resolved, That each Soldier in the Massachusetts Army shall have the following allowance per day, viz:         Article 1. One pound of Bread.         Article 2. Half a pound of Beef, and half a pound of Pork, and if Pork cannot be had, one pound and  a quarter of Beef; and one day in seven, they shall have one pound and one-quarter of salt Fish, instead of one day' s allowance of meat.         Article 3. One pint of Milk, or, if Milk cannot be had, one gill of Rice.         Article 4. One quart of good spruce or malt Beer.         Article 5. One gill of Peas, or Beans, or other sauce equivalent.         Article 6. Six ounces of good Butter per week.         Article 7. One pound of good common Soap for six men per week.         Article 8. Half a pint of Vinegar per week per man, if it can be had".[3]

        Finally, the Congressional Continental Ration:

        "1 lb. of beef, or ¾ lb. pork, or 1 lb. salt fish, per day.
        1 lb. of bread or flour per day.
        3 pints of pease, or beans per week, or vegitables equivalent, at one dollar per
       bushel   for pease or beans.
        1 pint of milk per man per day, or at the rate of 1/72 of a dollar.
        1 half pint of Rice, or 1 pint of indian meal per man per week.        
        1 quart of spruce beer or cyder per man per day, or nine gallons of Molasses per    
        company of 100 men per week.
        3 lb. candles to 100 Men per week for guards.        
       24 lb. of soft or 8 lb. of hard soap  for 100 men per week."[4]
          So, the private soldier's individual daily ration, according to the U.S. Army quartermaster's Museum, amounted to:  16 oz. beef, 6.8 oz. peas, 18 oz. flour, 1.4 oz. rice/meal, 16 oz. milk, .1830 oz. Soap, 1 qt. spruce beer and .0686 oz. candle, providing him (albeit theoretically) "...more calories, twice as much protein, an adequate supply of all minerals and vitamins with the exception of vitamins A and C, " than the diet of the WWII infantryman.  [5]

A private's daily ration in the portions noted above,
an ideal rarely realized until the end of the war.
(l-r) salt pork, lye soap, candle stub, pint of hard cider, peas, rice, corn meal

           In reality, the prescribed ration was rarely followed to the letter, whether by design, duplicity, or want.

          "It being represented to the General, that many Regiments would at this season chuse to lessen their Rations of Meat and supply it with Vegetables, if they could be permitted:  His Concern for the health of the troops, and desire to gratify them in every reasonable request, induces him to direct, that the Colonels of such Regiments, as choose to adopt this plan, signify it to the Commissary General, and in two days afterwards the Quarter Master of such Regiment, be allowed to draw one quarter part of the usual Rations in Money to be laid out in Vegetables for his Regiment." [6]

        Diet also changed with proximity to towns and farms that had not yet been picked over by both sides.  Lieut. Jabez Fitch (Jewett's Co., 8th Conn.) had quite a varied diet during the New York campaign of 1776 consisting of varying amounts of milk, rice, cheese, pork, quahogs (clams), turnips, salt beef, biscuit, mutton, chocolate, sugar, rum, tea and toast [7].   Some of this was foraged for, some paid for, and some supplied by the British commissariat (after his capture on Long Island).

Rations drawn by the 10th Virginia , November 1777 [8]

        Due to the challenges of 18th century logistics, in-kind substitutions were often made,  as was the case in baked bread and whiskey for flour and rum.  The entries for the 10th Virginia Regiment (Fig. 8) are characteristic of vagaries and inconsistencies in supply found throughout Assisitant-Commissary McAllister's records.

        Washington even went so far as to order the troops to glean the woods and fields of French Sorrel (similar to spinach), watercress (related to cabbage), and goosefoot (also similar to spinach in taste) to make "sallad" as an anti-scorbutic.[9]

Foraging for "Sallad":  Sprigs of dandelion and wild violet leaves, shown here, 
could be brewed into a bitter tea high in vitamins A, B, C, D
-a reasonably effective remedy for scurvy.

         Rations were also not distributed equally, as in April and May of 1778, were Virginia units on detached duty received soap, but no candles, and the Barracks and Commissary at York received candles, but no soap.[10]  This was probably a function of shortage in general or perhaps their duties during that period.  Nevertheless, Washington continually bemoaned the lack of soap and "sour crout" to Congress, citing their collective abilities to prevent disease.
          Sadly, the omission of various portions of a ration was largely due to want, which Joseph Plumb Martin's memoirs jadedly recapitulate,

            "When we engaged in the service we promised the following articles for a ration: one pound of good and wholesome fresh or salt beef, or three quarters of a pound of good salt pork, a pound of good flour, soft or hard bread, a quart of salt to every hundred pounds of fresh beef, a quart of vinegar to a hundred rations, a gill of run, brandy, or whiskey per day, some little soap and candles, I have forgot how much, for I had so little of these two articles that I never knew the quantity.  And as to the article of vinegar, I do not recollect of ever having any except a spoonful at the famous rice and vinegar Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania, in the year 1777.  But we never received what was allowed us.  Oftentimes have I gone one, two, three, and even four days without a morsel, unless the fields or forests might chance to afford enough to prevent absolute starvation. Often, when I have picked the last grain from the bones of my scanty morsel, have I eat the very bones, as much of them as possibly could be eaten, and then have had to perform some hard and fatiguing duty, when my stomach has been as craving as it was before I had eaten anything at all.

Closer to reality:  tough beef and ash cake.  

            If we had got our full allowance regularly, what was it?  A bare pound of fresh beef and a bare pound of bread or flour.  The beef, when it had gone through all its divisions and subdivisions, would not be much over three quarters of a pound, and that nearly or quite half bones. The beef that we got in the army was, generally, not many degrees above carrion;  it was much like the old Negro's rabbit, it had not much fat upon it and very little lean.  When we drew flour, which was much of the time we were in the field or on marches, it was of small value, being eaten half-cooked, besides a deal of it being unavoidably wasted in the cookery.

             When in the field, and often while in winter quarters, our usual mode of drawing our provisions, when we did draw any, was as follows:---a return being made out for all the officers and men, for seven days, we drew four days of meat and the whole seven days of flour.  At the expiration of the four days, the other three days allowance of beef. Now, dear reader, pray consider a moment, how were five men in a mess, five hearty, hungry young men, to subsist four days on twenty pounds of fresh beef (and I might say twelve or fifteen pounds) without any vegetables or any other kind of sauce to eke it out.  In the hottest season of the year it was the same. Though there was not much danger of our provisions putrefying, we had none on hand long enough for that, if it did, we obliged to eat it, or go without anything.  When General Washington told Congress, 'the soldiers eat every kind of horse fodder but hay' he might have gone a little farther and told them that they eat considerable hog's fodder and not a trifle of dog's---when they could get it to eat." [11]

          These problems appear to manifest themselves as a result of the byzantine nature of the Continental supply corps, the failure to grant the army the authority to requisition supplies, and the devaluation of the Continental dollar.  Were it not that Washington was given increasing authority which resulted in the practice of requisition during the winter of 1777-78, tactical supply (Division and below) would not have been able to meet the most basic needs of the army.

          The new supply system began to take shape in 1778, with the shame of mass graves and Valley Forge and the Conway Cabal behind it.  As reported by the Board of War to Congress,

Rations drawn by Col Hartley's Reg't, Apr-July 1779 [12]

           "That the commissaries general of purchases and issues have represented to them, that from the moving state of the army, many parts of the ration, as established by Congress, cannot frequently be obtained, and, from the peculiar circumstances attending the supplies, there is sometimes an over-quantity of one article while others are extremely scarce, some of the states affording greater quantities of meat, while others abound more in flour; and that hence great embarrassments arise in the delivery of the stated ration; and that under such fluctuating circumstances, which change with the motions of the army, it is impracticable and troublesome to apply to Congress on every alteration of situation;'

           Resolved, That the Commander in Chief of the armies of the United States shall, in the army under his immediate command, and the commander of a separate department shall, in the army under his command, settle and determine according to circumstances, the ration to be issued to the troops, from time to time, giving an over proportion of a plentiful article in lieu and in full satisfaction of such as are scarce or not to be had, and which have been heretofore deemed part of the ration, reporting, from time to time, to the Board of War, the alterations and regulations by them respectively made in this respect..." [13]

            Then as ever, doctrine had to catch up with reality.   The manner in which the soldier was clothed and fed would undergo metamorphosis from tactical logistics to departmental quartermasters, to purchasing agents and back throughout the war.   According to Risch (1981), "It was 1780 before Congress, in the interest of economy, sharply curtailed departmental units of the supply agencies in the military departments.  This reduction was linked to congressional action making the states responsible for providing specific supplies-beef, pork, flour, rum, salt, and forage-to the Continental Army.  Reduction of departmental personnel was increased when Congress later resorted to the use of contracts for such supplies." [14]


                "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it."

                                                                     -Proverbs 15:17

 [1] Letter from Brigadier General Varnum to General George Washington, 22 Dec 1777., retrieved from, 10 Jan 2013.

[2] Connecticut Authorized Ration, American Archives Series 4, Volume 3, Page 0031., retrieved from, accessed 11 Jan 13.

[3]  Massachussetts Authorized Ration,  American Archives Series 4, Volume 3, Page 0030., retrieved from, 11 Jan 13.

[4] January 4 1775, Journals of the Continental Congress, p. 322., retrieved from,  9 Jan 2013.

[5] Retrieved from, 9 Jan 2013.

[6] General Orders, Head Quarters, New York, July 22, 1776. Letterbook, Papers of George Washington., retrieved from,  10 Jan 2012.

[7] Sabine, W.H.W. (Ed.) (1954).  The New York Diary of Lieutenant Jabez Fitch (NY Public Library manuscript with historical notes), Colburn and Tegg, New York. 27-70.

[8] George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 6.
Military Papers. 1755-1798 John McAlister, Assistant Commissary, Provision Returns, October 27,
[9] John McAlister, Assistant Commissary, Records, April-May 1778., George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress., retrieved from, 16 Jan 13.

[10] General Orders, Middle-Brook, 9 Jul 1777., retrieved from,, 16 Jan 13.

[11] Martin, Joseph Plumb. Private Yankee Doodle,  p. 238.

[12] George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 6.
Military Papers. 1755-1798, John McAlister, Provision Returns, 1777; 1778; 1779,. retrieved from,

[13] August 26, 1778, Journals of the Continental Congress, p. 838., retrieved from, 9 Jan 2013.

[14] Risch, Erna. "Supplying Washington's Army", U.S. Army Center of Military History Special Study, 1981., p 16.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Women in the British Army in America

Soldiers Cooking (1798), after Rowlandson [1]

            Excellent research by Don Hagist on the role of women in the British armies of the American Revolution.  "Women in the British Army in America"  (link) has been published before but has resurfaced via the Museum of the American Revolution.  Good read.  I was very surprised at the numbers involved, although I had read anecdotally in journals about the numbers and the administrative and logistical requirements in accomodating "soldiers' wives". 

British Troops on the March, (1790) [2]

         What is most interesting is the section on employment of women in a support role.  Perhaps we need to revisit having the " ladies  doing the cooking at living history events and expand their roles:  Sutleresses, Regimental Stores, Nurses, Laundresses, Seamstresses, Foragers, etc.   No mention of cooking...lots of other occupations, however.  Even on campaign, apparently:

           "The good woman who had fetched water for us at the risk of her life now got her reward. Everyone threw a handful of money into her apron, and she received altogether more than twenty guineas. In moments like this the heart seems to overflow with gratitude..." [3]
        And yet they had the audacity to caricature the French...

French Barracks (1786), Rowlandson [4]

     Here's to the ladies.


                "She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.  She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.  She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  Her children arise and call her blessed;  her husband also, and he praises her:  'Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.'  Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."

                                                   -Proverbs 31:24-31 (NIV)
[1] Rowlandson, T. (1798) Soldiers Cooking, Schutz Engr.  London, Ackerman, retrieved from, 27 Mar 13.

[2] Artist Unknown (c. 1790).  Anne S.K. Brown Collection.  retrieved from, 27 Mar 13.

[3] Brown, Marvin L., Jr. Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution: Journal and Correspondence of a Tour of Duty, 1776-1783. The University of North Carolina Press, 1965. p. 60., as quoted in Hagist, D. L. (2002). 

[4] Rowlandson, T. (1786).  French Barracks, London:  S.W. Fores.  retrieved from, 27 Mar 13.