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Review Ephraim Blaine Letterbook (New)

Review Ephraim Blaine Letterbook (New)

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Published by John U. Rees
Book Review: Joseph Lee Boyle, "`My last Shift Betwixt Us & death’: The Ephraim Blaine Letterbook, 1777-1778," The Brigade Dispatch, vol. XXIX, no. 1 (Winter 2001), 22.
Book Review: Joseph Lee Boyle, "`My last Shift Betwixt Us & death’: The Ephraim Blaine Letterbook, 1777-1778," The Brigade Dispatch, vol. XXIX, no. 1 (Winter 2001), 22.

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Published by: John U. Rees on Feb 08, 2013
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John U. Rees"My last Shift Betwixt Us & death": The Ephraim Blaine Letterbook, 1777-1778, JosephLee Boyle, ed., Heritage Books, 1540-E Pointer Bridge Pl., Bowie, MD 20716. 2001,224p, pref¬ace, introduction, editor's notes, chronology of documents, index, paper,$22.00 + $4.00 s&h.On 25 September 1779 Main Army Commissary of Military Stores Samuel Hodgdonasked Philadelphia Commissary of Stores Jonathan Gostelowe to "furnish a ContinentalDevil (as we are called by some) with a pair [of boots] at a moderate rate." In Joseph Lee
Boyle’s presentation of Ephraim Blaine’
s 1777-78 letter book we see the difficulties thecommissary of purchases department experienced in feeding an entire army of 
Continental Devil[s].
The volume
s preface begins with a paraphrase of NathanaelGreene,
“Whoever heard of a Commissary?”
That historical deafness is also rectified by
Mr. Boyle’
s work.After the 1777 reorganization of the commissary department, when duties were dividedbetween a commissary of purchases and a commissary of issues, William Buchanan wasappointed commissary general of purchases. Eph
raim Blaine was chosen Buchanan’
sdeputy in the Middle Department (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, andpart of New York state), and as such was in the thick of th
e army’
s campaign aroundPhiladelphia.
s first letter dated
Cross Roads [present-day Hartsville, Pa.] 16th.August 1777,
discusses numbers and roles of personnel needed for delivering andslaughtering beef 
for each division of Washington’
s army, ration estimates for four of thedivisions, and other minutiae related to beef supply; his last letter, dated 30 May 1778, just prior to the British evacuation of Philadelphia and the Monmouth Campaign, notes,
In the article of flour and Spirits I flatter myself we will be tolerably well provided, butwhat we sha
ll do for Meat god only knows.”
In that letter Blaine goes on to admit AI amfully tired of bearing the burden & important charge of feeding so large a Number of 
and closes with
This is my last shift betwixt us & Death. The first Divisionmarches in the morning without An ounce of Beef, or any kind of Meat. I wish to beenabled to write to you better tidings. G
od send me an opportunity soon.”
 One need not read the text exhaustively, though a full reading does much to enlighten oneabout the crucial work of army noncombatants, such as commissaries, purchasing agents,wagoners, drovers, and butchers. Turn to a
ny date, match it with the army’
s situation atthe same time, and you will find such things as the 20 December 1777 letter to AssistantCommissary John C
haloner (the day after the army’
s arrival at Valley Forge):
I camehome the 18th. Much Fatigued & used every method to Forward provisions, theAssistant purchasers have not been able to procure One Gallon Whiskey at the limitedprice, nor can my Assistants purchase one barrell of Pork, therefore Tom Dick and Harymust be served before the army and we shall never have a plentiful supply till thepurchasers for the Army have the regula
ting of the Market.”
This is a wonderful resourcefor those interested in th
e 1777 campaign and/or the army’
s inner workings. Beyond theletter book content, t
he preface nicely places Blaine’
s writings in context to periodproblems and our modern perspective, while the introduction seconds the preface andclearly explains commissary organization, and such influencing outside events as theweather and military operations. The introduction also contains an outline of Ephraim

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