Supplying the Continental Army

About the author

Edward St. Germain.
Edward St. Germain

Edward A. St. Germain created in 1996. He was an avid historian with a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and American culture and society in the 18th century. On this website, he created and collated a huge collection of articles, images, and other media pertaining to the American Revolution. Edward was also a Vietnam veteran, and his investigative skills led to a career as a private detective in later life.

Editor’s note

The following is a chapter from the book “The Private Soldier Under Washington” written by Charles Knowles Bolton in 1902. The book helps to explain the conditions that Continental soldiers experienced during the American Revolution.

The book contains fascinating letters and notes written by soldiers during the war, which you may find contain some outdated spellings of certain words compared to modern English.


A column of infantry in a country highway, giving a touch of color and life to the landscape, might well fire the pulse of any lad; and at the opening of the Revolution the glamour of military service, supplementing as it did the patriotic spirit, caused the volunteer army about Boston to increase in numbers from day to day, coming from the hills and plains, until the British looked out upon a besieging camp. But experience, as it ever does, cooled the pulse and cleared the brain; then the country boy began to examine the soldier’s knapsack and the size of his blanket.1 Washington shows in his Revolutionary correspondence that he knew these simple things, and when mutiny and desertion alarmed the colonies he sought the only permanent remedy – a greater degree of comfort for his men.

The soldier’s bed was often under the stars of heaven or the clouds of a threatening storm. If he was fortunate enough to possess a tent he fared better, but did not always escape the rain. The conversation recorded by a Connecticut surgeon expresses a condition which was far too frequent.

“Good-morning, brother soldier, how are you?”

“All wet, I thank ‘e, ” says the other; “hope you are so.”2

When the sun reappeared after a storm, tents were struck for a few hours to let the ground dry, and were pitched again at nightfall.3 Few troops had suitable covering at the camp in Cambridge in 1775, except the troops from Rhode Island; their tents were, according to Rev. Mr. Emerson, “in the most exact English style.”4 For the most part the shelters were as dissimilar in form as the men were in dress, and each one was somewhat of an index to, the character of its owner; some were of boards, and others of sail-cloth, some a combination of both, while stones, brush, and turf were forced into service.5

Huts built of fence-rails, sod, and straw could not be moved to dry or clear the ground, but they were in winter warmer than tents.6 Boards were used for floors when they were to be had, and also for the construction of the huts if there was a saw-mill near the camp; otherwise logs did duty, as in pioneer days, with the interstices filled with clay, moss, or straw.7 Each hut was supposed to have two windows; it could be built in about two weeks, and the company officers not infrequently lent a hand.8 In rude cabins like these, arranged in lines which extended back from the Schuylkill about one and a half miles,9 the greater part of Washington’s army passed the winter months at Valley Forge, beset from without by sleet and wind, from within by heat and smoke, until the eyes of the men smarted almost beyond endurance.10

The situation of the camp had much to do with the health and comfort of the men. Five sarcastic reasons for the selection of Valley Forge as a place in which to pass the winter of 1777-78 are worthy of record:

1st. There is plenty of wood & water.

2dly. There are but few families for the soldiery to steal from – tho’ far be it from a soldier to steal –

[3dly not given.]

4ly. There are warm sides of hills to erect huts on.

5ly. They will be heavenly minded like Jonah when in the belly of a great Fish.

6ly. They will not become home sick as is sometimes the case when men live in the open world – since the reflections which must naturally arise from their present habitation, will lead them to the more noble thoughts of employing their leisure hours in filling their knapsacks with such materials as may be necessary on the Jorney to another Home.11

Dressing and the morning meal were events which varied in importance, for at times there was little to wear and less to eat. In the campaign about Whitemarsh, in December, 1777, a soldier remarked: “We had no tents, nor anithing to Cook our Provisions in, and that was Prity Poor, for beef was very leen and no salt, nor any way to Cook it but to throw it on the Coles and brile it; and the warter we had to Drink and to mix our flower with was out of a brook that run along by the Camps, and so many a dippin and washin [in] it which maid it very Dirty and muddy.”12

The cooking was often done by soldiers from each company, for men who had skill in any direction were soon called upon to perform special service. “Nothing remarkable this day,” a private relates, “onely I was chose cook for our room consisting of 12 men, and a hard game too.”13 Sometimes there were no more than two kettles in which to prepare the meals for a company; the meat was broiled over the fire, spitted on a bayonet, and the bread was baked in the hot ashes.14 The men counted themselves fortunate if they could dine in peace; at the siege of Boston a man was quietly eating his bread and milk when a cannon-ball struck near by and so covered the bowl with flying dirt that he could eat no more.15

The following daily allowance or ration was authorized by the third Provincial Congress, June 10, 1775:

1. One pound of bread.

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.

3. One pint of milk, or, if milk cannot be had, one gill of rice.

4. One quart of good spruce or malt beer.

5. One gill of peas or beans, or other sauce equivalent.

6. Six ounces of good butter per week.

7. One pound of good common soap for six men per week.

8. Half a pint of vinegar per week per man, if it can be had.16

During the siege of Boston all allowances for the week were delivered on Wednesday unless the number of regiments made it necessary to serve a part of the army on other days.17 In the winter months corned beef and pork were given out four days a week, a pound and a half of the former and eighteen ounces of the latter per diem. Onions at two and eightpence a bushel and potatoes or turnips at one and fourpence a bushel might be substituted for peas or beans.18

The ration authorized by Washington at Valley Forge in the spring of 1778 called for 1 1/2 pounds of flour or bread, 1 pound of beef or fish, or 3/4 pound of pork, and 1 gill of whiskey or spirits; or 1 1/2 pounds of flour, 1/2 pound of pork or bacon, 1/2 pint of peas or beans, and 1 gill of whiskey or spirits. These amounts were varied according to the state of the stores in camp.19

Washington, writing to the president of Congress, June 28, 1776, estimated the cost of a ration at eightpence York currency, or a trifle more.20 In the report of the committee on the commissary department, agreed to by Congress June 10, 1777, a ration was to be considered as worth ten ninetieths of a dollar, or a little over eleven cents.21 When the army was in camp a market was established, where farmers were allowed to offer their produce for sale; and one suttling booth was permitted within each brigade’s limits where liquor might be sold at fixed prices.22 Milk was brought in from the country for the sick whenever it could be had, but the exorbitant sums asked by farmers were a frequent source of vexation and privation. At Peekskill General Putnam in 1777 fixed the prices of provisions, and made the penalty for buying articles at prices above those authorized, the forfeiture of the produce or the value in money. Later, when milk could not be obtained at sixpence a quart, an officer and thirty men were detailed from each regiment to collect cows sufficient in number to supply the needs of the army, and to care for them until the owners would agree to the terms fixed by the general.23

The army often suffered from the scarcity of vegetables because perishable food could not be carried as readily as beef. In Sullivan’s campaign against the Six Nations of Indians the men fared well; nuts and melons are mentioned in many diaries, and also corn or maize, which was ripe when the invading columns reached the first Indian villages. After corn became too old to boil or roast it was converted into meal; tin kettles, found in the red men’s huts, were perforated and used to grate the kernels, and every fourth man not on guard, it is said, sat up at night to play the part of miller. This meal was mixed with hot pumpkin or boiled squash, and kneaded into cakes which were baked in the coals.24 Food of this kind was of great importance in preventing the diseases which arise from a steady diet of meat. So great occasionally was the need of vegetables that a commander felt justified in ordering each regiment to prepare ground and plant seed, on the chance that head-quarters would not be moved before the time of harvest.25 Congress, meanwhile, urged the colonies to encourage agricultural societies.26

When provisions were scarce the allowance per man was reduced sometimes to 1/2 pound of flour a day, 1/2 pound of beef, with 5 gills of salt to 100 pounds of beef.27 At times the soldiers had no vinegar, at other times no vegetables or bread. In the midst of distracting quarrels among jealous officers, Washington sent out appeals for aid, writing: “Our soldiers the greatest part of last campaign, and the whole of this, have scarcely tasted any kind of vegetables; had but little salt and vinegar, which would have been a tolerable substitute for vegetables; have been in a great measure strangers to, neither have they been provided with, proper drink. Beer or cyder seldom comes within the verge of the camp, and rum in much too small quantities. Thus, to devouring large quantities of animal food, untemper’d by vegetables or vinegar, or by any kind of drink but water, and eating indifferent bread…are to be ascribed the many putrid diseases incident to the army.”28 In the winter of 1779 and 1780 the army was sometimes for five or six days without bread, often as long without meat, and once or twice two or three days without either.29

A facsimile of general george washington's orders issued from his headquarters in valley forge, december 23, 1777, regarding the allocation of provisions for the continental army during the revolutionary war.
Facsimile (reduced) of a call for grain for the army at Valley Forge.

Men in the Arnold expedition against Quebec, many a night, lay down without food. In Captain Goodrich’s company several became very weak from hunger, and at last Captain Dearborn gave them his pet dog. The soldiers carried the poor creature away and ate every part of his flesh, “not excepting his entrails.” Two other dogs were eaten the same day.30

A story is told of two soldiers in another campaign who, being out of provisions, put a stone in their camp-kettle when a certain Colonel Winds was expected. The colonel soon stopped before their fire and inquired: “Well men, anything to eat?” “Not much,” they replied. “What have you in that kettle?” “A stone, Colonel, for they say there is some strength in stones, if you can only get it out.”

This guileless conversation had the desired effect, for the officer declared that they must have something better to eat.

In times of distress it was vexing to find that the wagon-drivers had ruined the pork by drawing out the brine to lighten the load;31 or to see a clumsy fellow endeavoring to guide through the marshy road four or five horses attached to a wagon from which barrels of flour and other perishable provisions tumbled into the mud.32 At Harlem Heights, soon after the battle of Long Island, the general saw about the camp large pieces of fine beef left untouched to putrefy in the sun.33

The food was frequently poorly cooked from a scarcity of wood for the fires, and the few trees near a camp were the source of angry disputes. “I thought,” said Washington one day, “that different regiments were upon the point of cutting each others’ throats for a few standing locusts near their encampments, to dress their victuals with.”34 The quartermaster-general was instructed to investigate complaints regarding food and to punish careless cooks and bakers.35 In Wayne’s command each regiment or corps had an officer appointed weekly whose duty it was to visit the kitchen or place for cooking in every company, to see that the work was properly done, and that meat was boiled, not fried. It was recommended that flour be drawn from the stores two days in each week, so that small dumplings could be made for the soup.36 When the kitchen had no roof but the sky the soup was often too thoroughly permeated with burnt leaves and dirt to be palatable.37 Better cooking, especially baking, became a pressing necessity; finally all bakers were placed under a director, without whose license no baker could work for the army.38 A year later a company of bakers was authorized, to consist of seventy-five men and a director who was to receive $50 a month and three rations a day.39

The beef was poor all through the winter of 1777-78, so lean and thin that it became a matter of jest. A butcher who wore white buttons on the knees of his breeches was seen bearing a quarter of beef into camp. “There, Tom,” cried a soldier, “is some more of our fat beef. By my soul, I can see the butcher’s breeches buttons through it.”40 It is not strange that the doctor who records this conversation was fervently grateful for a good stomach that he might endure “fire-cake” and water for breakfast, with water and fire-cake for dinner. At evening the cry could be heard along the line of soldiers’ huts at Valley Forge, “No meat, no meat.” That the men under these conditions still showed “a spirit of alacrity and contentment” was marvellous. Were soldiers to have plenty of food and rum, wrote Dr. Waldo, “I believe they would storm Tophet.”41

The fare of the enemy was not always better than that of the Continental soldiers, if confidence may be placed in the remark of a diarist that biscuit taken from the British regulars were hard enough for flints.42

The question of a sufficient supply of good food was of the first importance, and was seemingly as little understood by politicians of the day, as was the effect of clothing on enlistments, or of enlistment for short periods on the success of a campaign. Washington estimated that 30,000 men would require for twelve months at least 200,000 barrels of flour and 40,000,000 pounds of meat.43 To obtain these supplies each year was one of the great tasks imposed upon the Commander-in-chief, and had confidence in Washington not grown from year to year and made his appeals effective, the Revolutionary War must have failed. To prevent the entire dissolution of the small permanent force which was deemed necessary during the winter months of inactivity, food had to be saved for the support of these men that should have been available to maintain the militia when called upon for important enterprises.44

The method adopted to obtain supplies was simple in theory; the amount of flour, meat, and other necessities to be procured was apportioned to the various colonies to be collected, transported, and deposited at such places within the respective colonies or States as the Commander-in-chief might from time to time designate.45 The same lack of a central authority strong enough to use force, which made it next to impossible to collect clothing, draft men, raise money, or punish deserters, played havoc with the commissary department. But when Washington in his vigorous, earnest appeals stirred the people near at hand they never failed him. The crises were always safely passed, and the war went on to the end.

Next in value to good food may be placed clothing, upon which depended largely the health, degree of cleanliness, and soldierly pride of the army. Frequent wars throughout the colonies from the earliest times had fostered the military spirit along the Atlantic coast line and the inland frontier towns. At the outbreak of the Revolution militia and independent companies were to be found in all the colonies, and styles of uniform were almost as numerous as company organizations. From the simple dress of the New England alarm-list companies to the elaborate costumes of the private corps in New York, Philadelphia, or Virginia was a long step; and thus it happened that the levies raised from time to time on short enlistments to reenforce the Continental army formed a motley gathering. In the ranks at the siege of Boston were men dressed as savages,46 as backwoodsmen, and some with uniforms not unlike those of the British regulars.47 The general hue of the ranks, however, not only in the campaign before Boston but through much the larger part of the war, was sombre, and can best be indicated by saying that the browns and greens predominated.48 Congress seems to have recognized this in an order to the commissioners at the Court of France in 1777 to send uniforms of green, blue, and brown colors.49 The popular “blue and buff” were not worn by the Continental rank and file from New England or the South, and the New York and New Jersey troops, for whom the combination was designated between 1779 and 1782 were, much of the time, destitute of cloth of the proper colors.

Historical documents relating to the early stages of the american revolutionary war, including a public call for food and supplies dated june 18, 1775, likely associated with the battle of bunker (breed's) hill and a handbill issued by the british troops critical of the massachusetts provincial congress.
Call for food and blankets, June 18, 1775 and a Handbill sent among the British troops on Bunker Hill.

During the opening months of the Revolution the troops that had no distinctive uniform were, as far as possible, clothed as Washington suggested, in a hunting shirt (a long loose coat), and in long breeches to which were attached gaiters or small-clothes buttoned at the sides and held down by straps under the shoes. The gaiters or leggings were often made of tow cloth which had been steeped in a tan vat until it became the color of a dry leaf. This uniform was sometimes called the rifle dress.50 There were ruffles of the same material around the neck and on the bottom of the coat, on the shoulders, at the elbows, and about the wrists. The hat was round and dark, with a broad brim turned up in three places, in one of which there was usually a cockade of some color or a sprig of green. A white belt over the left shoulder held the cartouch-box. A black cloth or stock went about the neck, and the hair was bound in a cue at the back.51

This costume was, in the minds of the British, associated with a skilful marksman, and Washington in the summer of 1776 urged its importance in these words: “It is a dress which is justly supposed to carry no small terror to the enemy, who think every such person a complete marksman.”52 At Bunker Hill a rifleman, standing upon the earthworks, was noticed by an Englishman to have shot as many as twenty of Howe’s officers before he fell,53 and in the Saratoga campaign, Anburey, watching the effect of their fire, attributed to the Americans a love of killing.”54 The British had reason, therefore, to fear the rifleman’s dress.

The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts resolved July 5, 1775, to provide 13,000 coats, faced with the material of the coat, without lapels, short and with small folds, each regiment to have its number on the pewter buttons.55 The general orders from head-quarters at Cambridge, July 24, 1775, recommended Indian leggings instead of stockings, as Washington hoped to obtain from the Continental Congress a hunting shirt for each man.56 Leggings were also warmer than stockings, more lasting, and could be had in uniform colors.57 Congress, on November 4, 1775, resolved to provide clothing for the army, to be paid for by stoppages out of the soldiers’ wages. At the same time it was ordered that as much as possible the cloth be dyed brown, and the distinction in regiment be indicated by the color of the facing.58 It will be noticed that there was little attempt to introduce bright colors, which were less serviceable and less easy to obtain.

In the campaign about New York in 1776 many soldiers had no uniforms, and these men were provided with hunting shirts.59 In October, 1776, Congress voted to give annually to each soldier who would enlist for the war a suit of cloths, to consist that year of two linen hunting shirts, two pair of overalls, a leathern or woollen waistcoat with sleeves, one pair of breeches, a hat or leather cap, two shirts, two pair of hose, and two pair of shoes.60

Vintage clothing exhibit: a revolutionary period hunting shirt made from home-spun linen paired with a waistcoat showing lacing in the back, original pieces owned by james m. kelly.
Hunting shirt (made from a model of the Revolutionary period) of home-spun linen and Vest made from a model of that period showing lacing in back instead of a buckle.

Writing to Governor Trumbull in January, 1778, Washington gave his opinion on a serviceable form of clothing, and added a word as to the value of trousers, now so universally adopted: “I would recommend a garment of the pattern of the sailors for jacket. This sets close to the body, and by buttoning double over the breast adds much to the warmth of the soldier. There may be a small cape and cuff of a different color to distinguish the corps…As the overall is much preferable to breeches, I would recommend as many of them as possible.”61 The difference desirable in winter and in summer is shown in the following letter: “In June should be given a waistcoat with sleeves, flannel, if to be had, two pair of linnen overalls, one shirt, a black stock of hair or leather, a small round hat bound and a pair of shoes. In January, a waistcoat to be worn over the former, close in the skirts and double breasted, resembling a sailor’s – , to have a collar and cuff of a different color, in order to distinguish the regiment, a pair of breeches, woolen overalls, yarn stockings, shirt, woolen cap, and a blanket when really necessary. Watch coats ought if possible to be provided for sentinels.”62

Trousers or overalls were more and more recognized as necessary, and Congress by a resolution of March 23, 1779, directed Washington to fix and prescribe a uniform for the soldiers, being governed by the supply, “woolen overalls for winter and linen for summer to be substituted for the breeches.” The adoption of blue coats followed in the fall; for in general orders dated at Moore’s house, October 2, 1779, the Commander ordered that the coats of the infantry be blue with white linings and buttons. The New England troops were to be distinguished by white facings, those of New York and New Jersey by buff facings, those of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia by facings of red, and the troops of the Carolinas and Georgia by blue, with buttonholes edged with white tape or lace. The artillery coats were to be faced and lined with scarlet; they were to be edged with tape, as well as the buttonholes, and the buttons and hat-bands were to be of yellow. Finally, the light dragoons or cavalry were to be distinguished by blue coats, with white facing, linings, and buttons.

It will be noticed that “blue and buff” had no standing in eleven of the thirteen States, although blue now became the military color of the United States.63

A historical document titled "gentlemen" with a sample of fawn-colored felt-cloth attached, including a call for coats and outlining specifications desired for military uniforms during a past era.
Call for coats, showing a sample of the fawn-colored felt cloth desired. These broadsides are rarely found with the cloth still attached.

Signs of merit, common to all parts of the country, were adopted toward the close of the war. In August, 1782, Washington directed that a non-commissioned officer or a private who had served honorably for more than three uninterrupted years should be permitted to wear upon the left sleeve of the uniform coats a narrow angular piece of cloth of the color of the regimental facing. For six years of service a parallel strip might be added. Unusually meritorious action earned for the soldier a purple heart of silk or cloth edged with lace or binding, to be worn on the facing over the left breast.64

The uniforms of all the infantry and cavalry were later ordered to be blue, faced with red and lined with white -the buttons also to be white. This order, from the scarcity of scarlet cloth, did not prove effective until the war closed.65

The Revolution quickened the production of cloth (duck, Russia sheeting, tow-cloth, osnaburgs, ticklenburgs),66 as it did that of shoes, gunpowder, and firearms. Throughout the country towns women carded and spun the wool and flax which their husbands provided, and the cotton which came from the West Indies; then they themselves, or itinerant weavers, wove the flannel, linen, and corduroy. In New England they usually received – but values are not easy to set down – five or six pence a skein of fifteen knots (about a yard and a half), and their day’s work of from two to five skeins brought the value of five or ten pounds of beef, or, to state it again, one or two good dinners at the tavern.67 Prices in Virginia in 1776 varied greatly. John Harrower, a Scot, mentions in his diary a payment of five shillings a pound for spun cotton, to run eight yards per pound, or about seven pence a yard.68 Weaving brought the same or a less amount. Many towns had mills for producing cloth, and the business of supplying the army grew rapidly. The campaign of 1775, however, was fought by men who had no clothing at hand suitable for very cold weather, and in many cases no blankets between their bodies and the ground.69 The insufficient clothing was more serious in the expedition led by Montgomery in the autumn of 1775 to Montreal. His proclamation, promising every article of clothing requisite for the rigors of the climate, was intended to satisfy the men who were willing to go forward; it shows that they might expect blanket-coats, coats, waistcoats, breeches, one pair of stockings, two shirts, leggings, sacks, shoes, mittens, and a cap.70 The way to Canada might be said to have been paved with promises, and it proved to be a rough road.

In December, 1776, Washington referred to the distresses of his soldiers, “many of ’em being entirely naked and more so thinly clad as to be unfit for service.”71 The hardships of the year before had dampened the enthusiasm of the farmers, and enlistments fell off. The men had ragged shirts and many marched with their feet bare;72 a few days of active service resulted in sickness for want of proper covering at night and lameness for lack of shoes. Many deserted, impelled by indignation at what was believed to be the bad faith and indifference of the Colonial Assemblies. Colonel Angell, of Rhode Island, writing from Peekskill in August, 1777, to the governor of his State, declared that the condition of his regiment was so scandalous that the members of the other corps and people in the villages along the line of march called his men “the Ragged, Lousey, Naked regiment.”73

These troubles reached their worst form in the winter at Valley Forge in 1777-78 and in the summer which followed. The New York Gazette at this time reported humorously that Congress was not prevented from making more paper dollars by scarcity of rags, for “independent of the large supply expected from Washington’s army as soon as they can be spared, we have reason to believe the country in general never abounded more in that article.”74 The dress of the soldiers was a favorite subject for jest, in one form or another, among the British. A poem addressed to Washington, who had issued a proclamation to the people calling upon them to fatten their cattle for his army, has the lines:

And for the beef – there needs no puff about it;
In short, they must content themselves without it,
Not that we mean to have them starved-why, marry,
The live-stock in abundance, which they carry
Upon their backs, prevents all fear of that!75

Upward of 2,000 men were unfit for service in November, 1777; in December there were 2,898 men in camp unfit for duty, many with no shoes and some without shirts. Many were confined to hospitals and farm-houses with feet too sore to bear unprotected the winter snows.76 When the trampled mud froze suddenly the rough ridges were like knives, and although men cut up their blankets and bound the strips about their feet the flesh was soon as unprotected as before.77 Still others, in their huts, sat by the fire through the night and dozed, unwilling to lie far enough from the coals to sleep.78 A fourth or fifth of the army passed the summer of 1778 about White Plains without shoes, and many with tattered shirts and breeches.79 The winter of 1779-80 was endured by many without suitable covering at night,80 and it is not strange that the young men in the country towns demanded exorbitant bounty money when asked to enlist in the following spring. If the Continental Congress could have offered good clothing and sufficient food soldiers might have been found for little or no bounty.

A vivid picture of Virginia troops is given by Thomas Anburey in his untrustworthy but readable book of travels. The writer claims that the colonel was proud of their appearance, and went about with two troopers before and two behind him, bearing drawn swords. Anburey writes: “As to those troops of [Colonel- Bland’s Virginia] regiment with Washington’s army, I cannot say any thing, but the two that the colonel has with him here, for the purposes of expresses and attendance, are the most curious figures you ever saw; some, like Prince Prettyman, with one boot, some hoseless, with their feet peeping out of their shoes; others with breeches that put decency to the blush; some in short jackets, some in long coats, but all have fine dragoon caps, and long swords slung round them, some with holsters, some without, but gadamercy pistols, for they have not a brace and a half among them, but they are tolerably well mounted.”81

While considering the lack of clothing, Washington wrote to General Lincoln: “What makes the matter more mortifying is that we have, I am positively assured Ten thousand compleat suits ready in France & laying there because our public agents cannot agree whose business it is to ship them – a quantity has also lain in the West Indies for more than eighteen months, owing probably to some such cause.”82 The effect of this kind of official inaction upon the private may be illustrated by an old soldier’s experience which he described to the historian of the First New Hampshire Regiment. This man had, at the time of these troubles, a furlough to visit his home; but the journey was a long one. Before he could start he was obliged to spend two days in cutting up his blanket to make for himself breeches and a pair of moccasins.83

Two months before the siege of Yorktown began, the men were so destitute of clothing that the French troops, encamped near by, made jokes on the nudity of the Continentals; yet, such was their loyalty to the cause of the Colonies that, when two ships from Spain arrived with supplies, and some of the coats were found to be red in color like those worn by the British, the Americans, ill-clad as they were, refused to wear them.84 A humorous view of the veterans was taken by the “Peaceable man,” as he styled himself, when he “ventured to prophesy…that if the war is continued through the winter,the British troops will be scared at the sight of our men, for as they never fought with naked men, the novelty of it will terrify them.85 Times changed, however, and the winter of 1782-83 was passed at Newburgh in comfort; the men were better fed, well clothed, and sheltered.86

Ragged uniforms and poor food for a long time not only discouraged enlistments, but injured the efficiency of the men in the service. Soldiers grumbled, and if they did not come to open mutiny, they grew careless about their appearance and negligent in their habits. “Our men,” Washington wrote in the orders of the day for January 1, 1776, “are brave and good; men who, with pleasure it is observed, are addicted to fewer vices than are commonly found in armies…If a soldier cannot be induced to take pride in his person he will soon become a Sloven, and indifferent to everything else. Whilst we have men, therefore, who in every respect are superior to mercenary troops, that are fighting for two pence or three pence a day, why cannot we in appearance also be superior to them, when we fight for Life, Liberty, Property and our Country?”


  1. Dr. A. Waldo’s Diary; in Historical Magazine, May, 1861, p. 130.
  2. Dr. A. Waldo’s Diary; in Historical Magazine, May, 1861, p. 132.
  3. Orderly book, Pennsylvania State Regiment, Pennsylvania Magazine, January, 1899, p. 477.
  4. Washington’s Writings (Sparks), vol. 3, P. 49 1 1. MS. letter quoted.
  5. Washington’s Writings (Sparks), vol. 3, p. 492. In October, 1776, “country linen fit for tents,” a yard wide, sold for three shillings and sixpence a yard. Twenty-one and a half yards were required to make a tent for six men. – American Archives V., vol. 2, col. 988.
  6. Ibid., vol. 2, col. 610.
  7. T. Anburey’s Travels, vol. 2, p. 794.
  8. Washington’s Revolutionary Orders (Whiting), p. 86, May 14, 1778. Dr. Waldo’s Diary, Historical Magazine, May, 1861, p. 133.
  9. T. Blake’s journal, in Kidder’s First New Hampshire Regiment, p. 40.
  10. The following lines, written by Dr. Waldo at Valley Forge, April 26, 1778, describe a rather better hut than those used by the privates:Of pondrous logs
    Whose bulk disdains the winds or fogs
    The sides and ends are fitly raised
    And by dove-tail each corner’s brac’d
    Athwart the roof, young saplings lie
    Which fire and smoke has now made dry –
    Next, straw wraps o’er the tender pole,
    Next earth, then splints o’erlay the whole
    Although it leaks when show’rs are o’er,
    It did not leak two hours before.
    Two chimneys plac’d at op’site angles
    Keep smoke from causing oaths and wrangles.Three windows, placed all in sight,
    Through oiled paper give us light;
    One door, on wooden hinges hung,
    Lets in the friend, or sickly throng.-Historical Magazine, September, 1863, p. 270.
  11. Dr. Waldo’s Diary, Historical Magazine, May, 1861, p. 131
  12. Elijah Fisher’s Journal, p. 7 .
  13. Military journals of Two Private Soldiers, p. 79 (references are to that by S. Haws).
  14. E. Wild’s journal, p. 29; same in Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, October, 1890, p. 104.
  15. Rev. B. Boardman’s Diary, Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, May, 1892, P. 406.
  16. Journals of Each Provincial Congress (Lincoln), pp. 317, 318. In August, 1775, each soldier was granted 1 pound of fresh beef or 3/4 pound of pork, or 1 pound of salt fish per diem; 1 pound of bread or flour per diem; 3 pints of peas or beans per week, or vegetables equivalent at 5 shillings sterling per bushel for peas or beans; 1 pint of milk per diem per man, when to be had; 1/2 pint of rice, or 1 pint of Indian meal, per man per week; 1 quart of spruce beer per man per diem, or 9 gallons of molasses per company of 100 men; 3 pounds of candles to 100 men per week, for guards, etc.; 24 pounds of soft or 8 pounds of hard soap for 100 men per week; 1 ration of salt, 1 ration of fresh meat, and 2 rations of bread, to be delivered Monday morning; Wednesday morning the same; Friday morning the same, and 1 ration of salt fish. Substantially the same ration was approved by Congress November 4, 1775, but with “or cider” after the word “beer.”
  17. Colonel William Henshaw’s Orderly Book, August 8, 1775, p. 66. The ration in force at the outbreak of the SpanishAmerican war of 1898 was: 1 1/4 pounds of beef or 3/4 pound of pork, 18 ounces of bread or flour, A ‘pound of coffee, 15/100 pound of sugar, 1 pound of vegetables ; 2 quarts of salt, 4 quarts of vinegar, 4 ounces of pepper, 4 pounds of soap, 1 1/2 pounds of candles, to 1 00 rations. An allowance at the rate of 60 cents per day per man was made for special food for the sick. In Cuba, however, the sick were fortunate if they received the army ration, when their comrades lived on hard bread, poor beef, coffee, sugar, and an occasional tomato.- CommissaryGeneral of Subsistence, Report for year ending June 30, 1898, pp. 7, 25-32
  18. Washington’s Orders, December 24, 1775; also Barriger’s Legislative History of Subsistence Department, second edition, p. 8.
  19. Washington’s Revolutionary Orders (Whiting, 1844), p. 63.
  20. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 4, p. 185. The Virginia Committee of Safety in 1776 considered their ration of bacon, pork or beef, with flour or meal, and salt, worth 7 1/2d. – Virginia Calendar of State Papers, vol. 8, p. 84.
  21. Barriger’s Legislative History, second edition, p. 17.
  22. Washington’s Revolutionary Orders (Whiting), p. 62.
  23. Putnam’s Orders, August 8, 13, 1777. The prices were: Butter 2s. per pound; mutton and lamb, 8d.; veal 6d.; milk, 6d. per quart; potatoes 6s. per bushel; squashes, 1s. per peck; beans or peas in pod, 1s. 6d. per peck; cucumbers, 1s. per dozen; pig for roasting, 1s. per pound; turnips, carrots, and beets, 6s. per bushel, New York money. September 3;cider, 6d. York or 4d. lawful money per quart.
  24. Nathan Davis’s History, Historical Magazine, April, 1868, p. 203.
  25. Putnam’s General orders, August 25, 1777, p. 62; also American Archives V., vol. 3, col. 1584.
  26. Journals of Congress, March 21, 1776.
  27. Dr. Jabez Campfield’s Diary, p. 133; also Orderly Book of the Northern Army at Ticonderoga and Mt. Independence (Albany, 1859), p. 132.
  28. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 5, p. 495.
  29. Washington at Morristown; his Writings (Ford), vol. 8, p. 186.
  30. Dearborn to Rev. W. Allen; note to J. Melvin’s Journal, October 31, 1775 (New York, 1857), p. 14; (1864) p. 30.
  31. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 4, p. 125.
  32. Dr. J. Campfield’s Diary, p. 133.
  33. General orders, September 28, 1776. American Archives V., vol. 7, col. 605.
  34. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 3, P. 195.
  35. Colonel William Henshaw’s Orderly Book, p. 44.
  36. Orderly Book of the Northern Army at Ticonderoga, p. 126.
  37. Dr. A. Waldo’s Diary, Historical Magazine, May, 1861, p. 131
  38. Journals of Congress, May 3, 1777.
  39. Ibid., February 27, 1778.
  40. Dr. Waldo’s Diary, Historical Magazine, May, 1861, p. 134.
  41. Dr. Waldo’s Diary, Historical Magazine, May, 1861, p. 130.
  42. Military journals of Two Private Soldiers, p. 53.
  43. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 8, p. 225.
  44. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 9, p. 45.
  45. Sparks in Washington’s Writings (1834), vol. 6, p. 482.
  46. American Archives IV., vol. 3, col. 2.
  47. A little later confusion arose from the similarity of the cloaks of the Connecticut light horse to those of the enemy. – Waldo’s Diary, Historical Magazine, June, 1861, p. 169.
  48. Historical Magazine, vol. 4, p. 353 (December, 1860) also Magazine of American History, vol. I, p. 461.
  49. Journals of Congress, February 5, 1777.
  50. Magazine of American History, vol. I, p. 60, p. 461 et seq., a valuable review of the subject by Professor A. B. Gardner of West Point.
  51. See also Uniforms of the Army of the United States from 1774 to 1889, pp. 1-3
  52. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 4, p. 297. Orderly Book, July 24, 1776.
  53. Trevelyan’s American Revolution, part 1, p. 328.
  54. Anburey’s Travels, vol. I, p. 331.
  55. American Archives IV., Vol. 2, col. 1486.
  56. Ibid., vol. 3, col. 248.
  57. Colonel William Henshaw’s Orderly Book, p. 65.
  58. Again, having in mind the necessity of providing “the soldiers of the United Colonies” with clothing and blankets, Congress resolved, June 19, 1776, to recommend to the colonial assemblies and conventions that they cause to be made for each soldier a suit of clothes, the waistcoat and breeches to be of deer leather if to be had on reasonable terms, a blanket, felt hat, two shirts, two pair of hose, and two pair of shoes.
  59. American Archives IV., vol. 6, col. 426.
  60. Journals of Congress, October 8, 17 76.
  61. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 6, p. 288. In General Sullivan’s expedition in 1779 against the Six Nations in Western New York and Pennsylvania each man wore a short rifle frock, a vest, trousers of tow, shoes, stockings, and carried a blanket and an extra shirt. – Nathan Davis’s History, Historical Magazine, April, 1868, p. 204.
  62. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 6, p. 330.
  63. Magazine of American History, vol. I, p. 477.
  64. Washington’s Revolutionary Orders (Whiting), pp. 220-231.
  65. General Orders, Newburgh, December 6, 1782, February 24, March 3, 1783.
  66. Mentioned in a vote of Congress, July 19, 1775.
  67. Weeden’s Economic and Social History, pp. 731, 789, 790.
  68. American Historical Review, October, 1900, p. 106; see also p. 107.
  69. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 3, pp. 142, 147.
  70. Lossing’s Schuyler (1872), vol. 1, p. 464.
  71. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 5, p. 103.
  72. Ibid., vol. 5, p. 151.
  73. Angell’s Diary (Field), p. xii.
  74. New York Gazette, February 23, 1775. In F. Moore’s Diary, vol. 2, p. 16.
  75. Rivington’s Royal Gazette, January 2, 1779. In Moore’s Diary, vol. 2, p. 118.
  76. Washington, December 29, 1777. In his Writings (Ford), vol. 6, p. 267.
  77. John Shreve’s Personal Narrative. Magazine of American History, September, 1879, p. 568.
  78. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 6, p. 260.
  79. Ibid., vol. 8, p. 333.
  80. Ibid., vol. 7, p.137.
  81. Anburey’s Travels, vol. 2. p. 320.
  82. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 9, p. 51.
  83. Kidder’s First New Hampshire Regiment, p. 72.
  84. Chevalier de la Luzerne, in J. Durand’s New Materials, p. 250.
  85. M. Morris’s Private journal, p. 16.
  86. Washington’s Writings (Ford), vol. 10, p. 153.

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