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"False hopes and temporary devices ..."
Organizing Food Supply in the Continental Army

John U. Rees

(Originally published in Food History News in vol. XII, nos. 3 and 4, and vol. XIII, no. 1)

Wagons used to transport provisions to the Continental Army were usually hired for the
purpose from civilians near the source of supply. Large numbers of Conestoga wagons were
used hauling in goods from Pennsylvania, while other vehicles conformed to types preferred in
the area they came from. Most likely had some covering for their lading, either a bonnet cover
(as pictured), or a close cover drawn directly over the cargo. Depending on the weight of the
load, wagons were drawn by two or four horses. Illustration from William Tatham, Historical
and Practical Essay of the Culitivation and Commerce of Tobacco (London, 1800). Tatham was
present in the James River basin area of Virginia in the 1760s and 70s.

"To subsist an Army well ..."
An Organizational Overview

Successful commanders have always recognized the importance of food supply; former
bookseller and amateur military scholar Major General Henry Knox, then chief of Continental
Army artillery, wrote on the matter after six years hard-won experience in the war with Great

To subsist an Army well, requires the utmost attention and exertion. Unless an Army is properly fed,
all calculations and schemes of enterprize are in vain. For the moment an expedition is to take place,
the troops may be said to have wanted provisions for one, two, or more days, and that it will be
impossible to begin a march until they shall be supplied. Experience has often convinced us of the
truth of this assertion, and some times at too dear a rate.

Soldiers often purchased, begged, or stole foodstuff, but it was the army-supplied ration that
served as the mainstay of their daily sustenance. Before the advent of the general staff in the early
19th century (somewhat akin to a presidential cabinet) much of the routine that kept a military force
in being necessarily devolved upon the commander and a small group of aides. To disperse this
workload several posts were created to keep the army running, among them the Commissary and
Quartermaster Generals. Under these two men, each with food-related responsibilities, was a
network of assistants operating in various communities, and the butchers, coopers, wagoners,
drovers, and other personnel needed to process and transport provisions.
Varying amounts of beef, pork, fish, baked bread or flour, and rice, along with beverages and
occasional vegetables, comprised the Continental soldier's daily ration. To actualize this allotment a
system had to be instituted to purchase food from farmers and middlemen, collect it at designated
magazines (i.e., storehouses), and transport it wherever the army and its detachments were situated.
Once foodstuff reached the army it would be distributed to the divisional, brigade, and regimental*
quartermasters responsible for issuing soldiers their rations. Keeping an army together required
sound finances and the willingness of farmers and merchants to sell to the army; failing that, the
high command needed the resolve to implement impressment (property seizure) at the risk of ill-
feeling among local populations. Besides economic considerations a number of other factors
influenced food supply, including the competence of the Quartermaster General, Commissary
General, and their deputies, the weather's detrimental effects on harvests and/or road conditions, the
proximity of the enemy, whether troops were mobile or located in static posts and the distance to the
nearest magazine.
At the war's beginning the Continental Army's infrastructure had to be manufactured from
whole cloth and, like most of the fledgling army's components, the system of gathering and
dispersing food found its basis in pre-war British practice. The new army's food chain was
comprised of several departments and effected through various procedures that were periodically
modified to cope with changing economic, political, or military conditions. At the outset, the
Commissary General and his local deputies first purchased and collected comestibles, then
procured wagons to carry food from outlying districts to the army or magazines. Until 1777
wagons were hired by the Quartermaster General or one of his assistants; eventually transport
was arranged through the Wagonmaster General and his deputies, working under the auspices of
the Quartermaster General's department. At a more elementary level, each infantry brigade and
regiment was apportioned wagons to transport provisions and baggage; these wagons were
furnished by the Wagon Department and driven by hired teamsters or soldiers selected for the
task. When the time came for distributing rations within each regiment, each unit's quartermaster
apportioned foodstuff to each company and then within a company to every six-man mess squad
(a regiment contained eight to ten companies prior to 1779, each nominally comprised of
seventy-six men; eight or nine companies of fifty-six men each beginning in 1779.

* * * * * * * * * * *
* A division was comprised of two brigades and a brigade usually contained three or four regiments; regiments
were always understrength, ranging from a high of roughly 500 men to a low of 150 or less.


Commissary assistant preparing food prior to issuing to company messes. (Captain
David Brown’s Company of Concord Minutemen, 19-20 April 2014, Minuteman
National Historic Park.)

Joseph Trumbull was appointed Commissary General for the Continental Army on 19 July 1775,
the first of several men to fill that office. For the war's first two years the Commissary General was
responsible for both procurement and disbursement of provisions. In 1777 the first major
departmental reorganization occurred and those duties were split between the Commissary General
of Purchases and the Commissary General of Issues. Trumbull headed the purchasing department
while the other department was given Charles Stewart; beginning in 1779 changes were made in
methods of food procurement, but the issuing office, headed by Stewart, operated relatively
unchanged until late in 1781. The Commissary of Issues department "also included assistant
commissaries of issue assigned to supervise provision magazines ... By the end of January 1778
Thomas Jones ... deputy commissary general of issues in the Middle Department, reported 13


Rations being issued to Massachusetts militia investing Boston in 1775. (Captain David
Brown’s Company of Concord Minutemen, 19-20 April 2014, Minuteman National Historic

magazines in New Jersey, 10 in Pennsylvania, and 3 in Maryland, each under the care of an
assistant commissary of issues, who appointed his own clerks and scalemen. At some magazines
coopers as well as bakers were employed."
Historian Robert Wright described the impact of the 1777 changes: the Commissary General of
Purchases "primarily procured items, while the [Commissary General of Issues] stored them and
handled some distribution functions. The Quartermaster General's Department reorganized on 14
May. The department formed specialized groups to handle transportation, quarters, forage, and
baking; upgrading the Army's transportation had the most immediate impact. The Quartermaster
General remained directly responsible for the support of General Washington's Main Army; he had
several assistants and a deputy for each division. Parallel structures were provided in each territorial

department." Another important innovation was the assignment to each brigade of an assistant
commissary responsible for overseeing and expediting the ration issue.

The 1777 reorganization also covered some practical matters:

... the commissary general of purchases shall contract ... with one or more persons in each district, to
make or supply a sufficient quantity of vinegar for the use of the army ... the deputy commissaries
general of purchases take special care to procure full supplies of vegetables, as being essentially
necessary to the health of the army; and they are ... directed, with the advice of the commander in
chief, or commander of the respective district, to hire land therein, and raise such quantities of
vegetables as are wanted, and cannot be otherwise procured for the army ... And whereas Experience
has evinced that potatoes can be preserved in such a Manner as that the Crops of one Year will keep
until that of the succeeding Year is fit for Use; the Com: General or the D.Com. Generals ... shall
therefore fix upon one or more proper places in each Department on which to raise such Quantities of
potatoes Turnips and other Vegetables as the Commander in Chief or Commander of a Department
may Direct, to rent Land therefore and employ persons to superintend and carry on the Works with a
sufficient Number of Labourers.

It is doubtful that this plan was ever put in effect.
When considering food supply the Quartermaster General was just as important as the two
Commissary Generals. While the latter handled purchase, storage, and disbursement of food, the
former controlled the boats, vehicles, and draft animals (horses and oxen) used to transport
provisions; if rations could not travel to the army, soldiers suffered. The Quartermaster General had
other duties affecting food supply and planning; functioning as would a modern chief of staff the
Quartermaster General helped plan troop movements, distributed the commanding general's orders,
built and repaired roads and bridges, and surveyed fords and ferry sites. Army historian Erna Risch


Sheet-iron camp kettle and hatchet with issued foods, including beef, peas, rice and chocolate.
(Photograph by the author.)

noted that considering all his responsibilities "the Quartermaster General had to be not only a
competent military officer but also an able administrator and a versatile businessman, familiar with
the resources of the country and capable of drawing them out."
Prominent Philadelphian Thomas Mifflin was the first man to fill that post in the Continental
Army. He served until autumn 1777, with a brief hiatus in the summer of 1776. Mifflin's resignation
in October 1777 contributed to the late-year food shortages which plagued Washington's army
before and during the Valley Forge camp. In March 1778 General Nathanael Greene assumed the
Quartermaster General position, serving in that capacity until his 1780 appointment as commander
of the Southern Department. Greene's tenure set a tone of efficiency and competence ably mirrored
by Colonel Timothy Pickering who filled the role from 1780 till the war's end.
There were three stages of provisioning implemented during the war: purchase of foodstuffs
directly from suppliers by the Commissary Department (the commissariat system), a system of

specific supplies provided by individual states, and, finally, a network of contractors hired to supply
foodstuff to various districts or armies; to complicate matters further there were many variations
within each method to deal with economic factors, transportation problems, and food shortages. A
constant theme in extraordinary circumstances was impressment, the forceable seizure of
commodities desperately needed to keep the army in being. To simplify matters we have dwelt on
the first system; purchase, storage, and issuance of provisions by the Commissary Department, via
the Commissary General's deputies and agents, and the important role of the Quartermaster General
throughout, but a brief overview of the other methods is in order.
The commissariat's successor, a system of state specific supplies, was instituted because of the
army's chronic difficulties in obtaining sufficient foodstuff during the winter of 1779-80, brought on
by a severe monetary crisis and exacerbated by bad weather. This ad hoc solution resulted in what
amounted to a barter system, similar to that used by the country's businessmen and farmers in times
of tight money supply. It was accomplished via direct supply of needed goods by individual states,
thus obviating the reliance on currency susceptible to rampant inflation; in return the states were
relieved of two-thirds of the taxes owed Congress. Beginning in December 1779 six states were
required to supply corn and flour to fulfill the army's immediate needs. A more comprehensive state
quota was enumerated in a "Demand of Committee of Congress for Supplies" dated 1 August 1780.
The total quantity levied on twelve states was "30,000 barrels of Flour Monthly," "166,835 [pounds]
beef or pork," "30,000 [pounds] Bacon," "225 Hogsheads of Rum per month," and "9,142 bushels
of grain, for forage"; allotments of salt, corn, and tobacco were also called for. To transport these
goods the states were to provide "250 Waggons, with harness compleat, four horses to each" and
"1500 Horses, without Harness."

The result was hardly satisfactory and later that autumn General Washington noted the need for a
change in food procurement. He described the situation up till then as one of "false hopes and
temporary devices, instead of system and oeconomy ... the Army, if it is to depend upon State
supplies, must disband or starve; and ... taxation alone ... cannot furnish the means to carry on the
A system of businessmen who contracted to purchase food and transport it to the army, was
put in place, but only gradually. The year 1781 was a transitional period during which the contract
method for supplying provisions was partially implemented; by 1782 the system was fully
operational. Contracts were awarded for each stationary garrison, mobile army, or military district;
unfortunately, when small detachments assigned to a post were absent they often still relied on that
post for rations, with the result that some men were intermittently unprovided for. Additionally,
while some contractors were relatively honest, others were less so and soldiers still suffered from
poor quality food, even that sometimes in insufficient quantities. In May 1782 officers railed against
the system, complaining, among other things, that

When the beef issued has any reasonable quantity of suet on the kidney it is always taken away by
which the meat becomes unmerchantable and if the Contractor is authorized to take away any part of
the carcass he may when it suits his convenience or interest deprive us of all the good parts and
supply us only with the coarsest.

Contractors were also taken to task for "not issuing any vinegar since the first day of Jany: [1782]
but once or twice in a small quantity" and "For deducting one fifth from the flour issued when there
is not bread in store." Similar problems were experienced in the war's final year. Colonel Elias

Dayton wrote General William Heath in May 1783, "Complaint has been made to me by a number
of the officers of the Jersey line, that the beef which has been issued to the soldiers for a week past
was exceedingly bad in quality and in some instances so much spoiled as to be really unfit for use."
The following day Heath reported the problem to General Washington: "There has been no
provisions received by my Brigade for this day ... if some measures are not taken to remedy this evil
it will be attended with dangerous consequences. Frequent complaints have been made to me by
every grade of officers of this deficiency in the Contractors, as well as the extreme bad provisions
which the troops have drawn for several weeks past." Thus, the contract system also resulted in
"false hopes."

In retrospect the commissariat proved most effective in keeping the moving army and various
garrisons supplied with food; unfortunately, this was only true given a stable economy, a strong and
able quartermaster general at the helm, seconded by a competent commissary general, and diligent
deputy quartermasters and commissaries. Under the auspices of Quartermaster General Nathanael
Greene the commissariat was at its best. Early in the war the Quartermaster and Commissary
Departments were crippled by a lack of organization or led by weak men; indeed, at different times
one or the other of the leadership roles was left vacant for brief but crucial periods, most notably
during the summer, autumn and winter of 1777. With the downfall of government credit and
currency beginning in 1779 the commissariat had its foundations shattered. Thus, by the war's end
the contract system of food supply was born, and, with all its faults, was retained by the army into
the post-war years and through much of the 19th century.

Soldiers of Capt. Andrew Fitch’s company, 4th Connecticut Regiment, in their mess groups
preparing an evening meal. (Model Company event, Putnam Park, Redding, Ct., 25 to 27
September 2009. Photograph courtesy of the Model Company.)

"Owing to this variety of waste ..."
Producing, Storing, and Transporting Bread

To better understand the sheer magnitude of the effort, let us look at food gathered for the army in
summer 1777. After the resignation of Joseph Trumbull as commissary general, and just prior to the
British landing at the Head of the Chesapeake Bay in late August, an "Estimate of Provisions" on
hand or ready for purchase was compiled. In the Middle Department alone (comprising eastern
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and part of New York) there was listed 214,762 pounds of bacon, 40,000
pounds of hard bread, 46,370 barrels of flour, 2,000 barrels of herring, 1,380 barrels of pork, 193
barrels of beef (at roughly 200 pounds of meat per barrel), 20,379 1/2 bushels of Indian corn, 4,000
bushels of salt, 964 1/2 bushels peas, 1,983 head of cattle, plus unspecified lesser quantities of peas,
flour, "Salted Provisions," and "Spirits." "Lying East of Hudsons River" (in New York and New
England) were 17,100 barrels of "Beef & Pork," 20,000 barrels of flour, 50,000 bushels of salt, and
"the Cattle in New England engaged to" Commissary Henry Champion, along with smaller stores of
bacon, rum, sugar, wine and rice. Appended was the statement that "Immense Quantities is likewise
in Connecticut, Eno[ugh] for one Year if the whole Army got that way."

Preparing rations for boiling a stew. The pictured foodstuff includes turnips, beef, salt pork,
onions, potatoes, butter, and bread. Also shown are eggs and cheese, foods not on the list of
army-supplied comestibles. (Captain David Brown’s Company of Concord Minutemen, 19-
20 April 2014, Minuteman National Historic Park.)

Of course, having large quantities of food in storage or on paper did not mean the troops received
a sufficient diet. In July 1777, just before the aforementioned provision return was issued, General
Washington complained,

With respect to Food, considering we are in such an extensive and abundant Country, No
Army was ever worse supplied than ours with many essential Articles of it. Our Soldiers, the
greatest part of last Campaign [in 1776], and the whole of this, have scarcely tasted any kind
of Vegitables, had but little Salt, and Vinegar, which would have been a tolerable Substitute
for Vegitables ... 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 ... If these evils
can be remedied the expence and trouble ought not to be obstacles.

While the above-listed commodities comprised the Continental ration it is those mainstays of
military food, bread and beef, that will serve to illuminate the intricacies of food procurement,
storage, and distribution. We will begin with flour and bread.
Once sufficient provision stores were secured a myriad of practical matters still needed attending,
and no one knew this better than Baker General Christopher Ludwick. In summer 1777 he described
the many obstacles to be overcome in getting bread to the troops. He commented in August the
"chief difficulty ... is that when the bread is baked he is at a loss to know in what manner he shall

An interesting representation of a masonry ovens used by Continental Army bakers. This
example was built and operated by Yannig Tanguy, Crown Point Bread Co., at the 225

Battle of Saratoga event, October 2002. (Author’s photograph)

dispose [of it] ... so that it may not be wasted"; to rectify this Ludwick recommended that "every
Regiment Division or Post [appoint] a certain Officer ... who shall issue his Order to the nearest
Station where bread is baked for the Quantity [wanted] from time to time ... receive the same on
covered Waggons large and strong enough to carry a Ton And that the same Officer be charged to
take Care of the Bread that it comes under a good Roof and not remain in the open fields." That
same month, with the summer's campaign well under way and the "Grand Army very often ... so
divided as to extend over a large Tract of Country," Ludwick noted, "as there is no Corps of Masons
& Workmen following the Grand Army it is often impossible for one Man who is otherwise
sufficiently occupied to go out seeking Masons, buying lime, seeing that the Ovens may be done
right &c." He then questioned "Whether in such Cases the Superintendant [of Bakers] may not hire
& charge for the Service of Men thus employed not strictly in the baking but in a business ... very
necessary for the Oeconomy of Baking?"

Conditions at Fort Montgomery on the Hudson River proved the need for storage concerns.
General George Clinton to the commander in chief, July 1777,

I this moment received your ... Order of this Day for sending 30,000 Wt: of Hard-Bread
from this Post to King's Ferry to be transported from thence to Head Quarters.
The Hard Bread was sent here in Bulk [probably in bags] and by the Time it was stored so
much broken [as] to render it almost unfit to be used as I have no empty Casks at this Place I
fear it would be impossible to convey it Head Quarters ... In the mean Time I have sent a
Copy of the Order to Mr. Schenck at Fish Kill and directed him to send to this Post 30,000
Wt: properly put up in Casks to be forwarded to King's Ferry ... I have directed Mr. Schenck
to send no more Bread in the Condition he sent the last as it cannot be removed, if requisite,
without great Trouble and Loss.

Clinton noted in a postscript, "Since Writing the above I have myself viewed the Bread and find it to
be even worse than the Commissary represented it - Nor have we a single ... Cask to put it in and
should this also be the Case at Kings Ferry it will be impossible to get it to Head Quarters."

Other problems arose as the war progressed. Often flour was issued the men instead of baked
bread. General Henry Knox wrote in March 1781 that "In the field, all the troops receive flour of the
Commissary. Some regiments have soldiers who are bakers and are permitted by the commanding
officer to go to some neighbouring house with other soldiers as their assistants, to bake for the
Knox expounded on the difficulty:


"Round ship's biscuit ... [with] Pencil inscription inked in." The inscription on the other side
reads, "This biscuit was given – – Miss Blacket at Berwick on Tuesday 13 April 1784."
Dimensions of the item are 95mm (3¾ inches) diameter by 10mm (9/16") thick. In this view the
pattern of holes can clearly be seen, with no broad arrow or other Crown markings.
(Museum negative number D4001–1),  National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

flour ... if well baked, will not produce more than one hundred weight of hard bread for the
same quantity of flour ... These bakers receive the flour from the soldiers and return them a
ound of [soft] bread for a pound of flour, by which means the bakers make a neat profit to
themselves of 30 percent in flour; and often times more, as they put as great a proportion of
water as they please, there being no person whose duty it is to superintend them. This flour
the bakers sell to the country people in the vicinity of the camp, to the infinite damage of the
public or occupy public waggons, when the camp happens to move, to carry it away to a
better market. Last year at Tappan, one or two soldiers who baked for part of one of the
regiments of artillery, consisting of not more than 250 or 300 men, saved such a stock on
hand of the profits of baking for a short time, as to be able, on an emergency, to lend the
Commissary of the Park a sufficiency to issue one thousand rations for eight days ... Owing
to this variety of waste and bad management the same quantity of flour does not serve the troops so
long a time by nearly one third, as it would were it under a proper oeconomical regularity.

By the conflict's sixth year the system of providing soldiers bread was still inefficient and in much
need of improvement. Knox set out some practical recommendations:

I propose, That there shall be a baker and two assistants to each brigade ... They should be
furnished with a travelling oven, troughs and the necessary implements for baking, to
transport which a waggon and four oxen should be allotted. One of the three persons,
besides getting wood &ca, would be able to take care of and on a march drive these oxen.
However, if three persons should be found insufficient, a fourth might be added, to serve as
a wood cutter, &ca, which would render the assistance ample. The baker ought to be an
honest faithful man. The Commissary to have the immediate direction of this matter - that is,
to see that the quantity of bread which he receives from the baker answers properly to the
quantity of flour delivered him ... There should also be a superintendent baker to the Army,
whose business it should be to examine into the goodness of the bread made by the
respective bakers.

According to General Knox there were several benefits to his plan: "... the Army would, under
almost all circumstances, be certain of good bread, regularly issued, and the public would make the
same quantity of flour serve nearly one third longer, than it does in the loose manner in which this
business is at present conducted. They will save 30 per cent in value on all the flour consumed.
They will also save the expence, risque and trouble of nearly one third of all the flour transportation,
to replace that quantity which is now disipated in the manner related." The general ended by
estimating that "Probably there will be issued to each brigade daily 1500 rations of bread -
multiplied by the days of the year it will produce 547500 pounds, which must be supposed pounds
of flour." Given the large quantities involved the exponential increase in wastage or savings is

A mid-18
century Conestoga wagon, reconstructed for Fort Ligonier, Ligonier,
Pennsylvania. Wagons of this design were more often used to transport goods, including
food, to the army, rather than for carrying military baggage. ( )

Whatever the commodity, transportation was always a crucial factor. For much of the war all
Continental army wagons were procured by the Quartermaster's Department; these included
vehicles carrying supplies to the army as well as those accompanying the troops. A Wagon
Department, subordinate to the Quartermaster General, was created in 1777 to deal with the army's
increasingly complex needs. The Wagonmaster General headed the department, with deputies
assigned to the main army and each regional military department. In the Northern Department alone
the deputy wagonmaster general had five wagonmasters under his direction; they, in turn, each had
charge of one or more wagon brigades (with 10 to 12 vehicles) and their drivers. In 1780 the Wagon
Department was reorganized; at that time the department had eleven deputy wagonmaster generals,
one hundred and eight men specifically enlisted as wagonmasters, three soldiers serving as
wagonmasters, two hundred fifty-six enlisted wagoners, one hundred and four wagoners taken from
among the soldiery, and two hundred seventy-two hired wagoners.

The men who drove army supply wagons were occasionally negligent or dishonest, trading or
dumping cargo in mid-course or draining brine from barreled salt meats to lighten the load and
speed their way. Deputy Quartermaster Moore Furman described an instance of fraud in August

Having some conversation among the people at this Post about the Flour Coming forward
from Trenton I stept in to see it ... there appears to be an unfair Trade Carrying on by
somebody / several barrels were examined one of the lightest was weighed and proved to
Contain 1:0:11 Flour. - the Head appeared to have been taken out the Center Scooped out
and sides standing by which it appears that the Flour has been properly packed at first and
plundered Since - Should not all the Provisions be inspected at Trenton as the Cartage is a
very Expensive article and paying as much for transport ... for a Barrel half full as if it were
full is worthy of attention besides the loss of Flour ...

In this case the driver may have been imposed upon; Furman continued, "One of the Waggoners
here ... being asked how it happened that he took loading in so bad order Said that he Objected to it
when it was delivered to him but was told he would be paid for Carting a Barrel and had nothing to
do with what was in it -"

More often wagoners were trustworthy, overworked, and underpaid; Quartermaster General
Nathanael Greene described driving wagons as a "Duty ... disagreeable in itself." Eighteen-year-old
Joseph Joslin hauled flour, beef, pork, rum and hay from magazines in Connecticut to Washington's
army in 1777 and 1778. Sleeping in barns, stables, or under open skies, he worked 13 or 14 hour
days; on one occasion at 9 PM, the end of his workday, Joslin wrote, "It begun to Rain and then
there was no fire and nothing to Eat but Dry Bisket and So it goes." In addition to being responsible
for his lading, a wagoner had to maintain his vehicle and see to the draft animals' feeding and
comfort throughout the day. Besides a hard life on the road, army officers entertained "a mistaken
opinion ... [that] evry body has a right to correct a Waggoner." After 13 months Joslin,
conscientious and hardworking, resigned, noting in his journal "I Don't Intend to Drive a team for
my Continent anymore ... good-bye."


For more on army bread, see:
"Give us day by day our daily bread."
Continental Army Bread, Ovens, and Bakers
“Waste and bad management …”: Regulating Baking
"Hard enough to break the teeth of a rat.": Biscuit in the Armies of the Revolution
“A bake–house was built in eleven days …”
Contemporary Baking Operations and Army Masonry Ovens
“Seeing that the Ovens may be done right …”: Bake Oven Designs
“The mask is being raised!!”: Early–War Iron Ovens, and a Yorktown Campaign Bakery
“Hands are most wanted to bake bread for the Soldiers …": The Superintendent's Bakers
"The essential service he rendered to the army ...": Christopher Ludwick, Superintendent of Bakers
Addendum: Hard Biscuit Recipes

Linen haversacks were the preferred receptacle for carrying food. (One surviving British
example measures 13½ inches high by 16¾ inches wide, with a two–inch linen strap; the
haversack’s flap is closed with two buttons.) Here we see a typical Continental soldier’s
haversack, with boiled beef and hard biscuit in a wooden bowl. Linen bags inside the
haversack were used for storing meat, flour, biscuits, bread, and other rations. Also shown are
a tin cup, horn spoon, and tin canteen with a wool cover. (Photograph by the author.)

"We now have 500 head of fat cattle ...":

Procuring, Transporting, and Processing Livestock

Beef was but one element in the Revolutionary army's food chain, albeit an important one. Largely
descended from British or German immigrants, or newly arrived from those countries, most
American soldiers looked upon meat as the truly sustaining portion of their diet, more so than they
did fish, bread, vegetables, or other items. Beef could be served up in one of two ways, each of
which had their own inherent transportation and storage problems; live cattle could be sent to the
army for immediate slaughter and distribution or to serve as a travelling food source following in
the train of campaigning troops, or butchered meat could be barreled and preserved in salt brine.
One man, Eaphroditus Champion, left an informative account of his services in the Commissary
Department. His father Colonel Henry Champion was chief purchasing "commissary of fresh
provisions" for the Continental army from "the year 1776 to ... 1780 ... and furnished the army with
the greater part of the beef during these years." Historian John C. Dann described Eaphroditus as
having "the mind of a merchant, a head for figures, and a decidedly mercenary outlook." These
characteristics would have been a recommendation for the job, but in some individuals could have
caused problems; Frederick the Great noted that commissaries should be carefully chosen for "If
they are dishonest men, the sovereign can lose prodigiously from theft; under any circumstances
they should be watched carefully."

Champion first served in 1776 as Deputy Commissary of Fresh Provisions. He related that "The
appropriate duties of my office were to receive, provide for, and safely keep all the beef cattle,
sheep, and livestock which were purchased for the army, cause the same to be butchered as daily
necessities ... required, deliver the meat into the issuing stores, sell the hides and tallow, and keep
and render all accounts of the weight of the meats and of all issues of meat and fresh provisions
which I made to the issuing commissaries or stores. In short, I had the sole charge of the magazine
of fresh provisions for the use of the main army. ... I was also required ... to keep [the commissary
general] ... constantly informed of the state of supplies of fresh provisions and the number and
condition of the beef cattle on hand ..."
A deputy commissary's responsibilities were spelled out in
the department's 1777 reorganization:

the Commissary General of purchases [will] specially appoint Deputy Commissaries in each
Department to purchase Live Stock, giving power to the [deputies] ... to employ persons ... to receive
and kill the Cattle and to deliver the Meat, Hide, Tallow, Head and Tongues to the Commissary of
Issues at such post ... And the commissary general of issues shall direct the respective deputy
commissaries general to employ a suitable number of coopers |and packers,| who shall salt and pack
provisions at the several magazines and stores, and take the proper precautions with respect to all
provisions therein deposited.

Given the record keeping necessary to support the commissariat the younger Champion was likely
very meticulous; he also seems to have had scruples. In October 1776 he "went to headquarters ...
and received orders directly from [General Washington] relative to the beef cattle and their
disposition"; a New York captain brought in nine locally-taken cattle for Champion "to receive and
receipt. I declined to receive them, knowing them not to have been bought for the army, upon which
he obtained an order from Adjutant General Reed ordering me [to do so] ... which I did."

After leaving the main army late in 1777 Champion went to Ulster County, New York, "to collect
and deliver over to ... the deputy commissary general of purchases, five hundred head of beef cattle
which had been placed there for fattening ..." During the winter of 1778 Eaphroditus Champion was
appointed "deputy commissary general for supplying the army with beef cattle ... He immediately
visited those parts of the country most capable of fattening cattle in the winter season, particularly
the towns bordering on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts, a district of the country at that time
far more capable of fattening cattle than any other in the United States. His object was to induce the
people to fill their stalls and fatten cattle, assuring them that they should not be losers by it ... On the
fifteenth of May, 1778, I commenced my services as purchasing commissary under [Colonel] Henry
Champion ... From this time, my compensation as commissary was not a per diem compensation, as
formerly, but a commission of 2 percent under the resolutions of Congress of April 14, 1778 ... I
gave ... the bond required of ten thousand dollars, with two good and sufficient sureties ..." His last
service was "In January 1780 [when] I purchased a drove of 142 head of fat cattle in ... Hampshire,
Massachusetts. The last of this drove were purchased on the twenty-second of January ... When I
made this purchase ... I had to remain, collect, and deliver the cattle to the drovers and then return
home to Colchester and settle my accounts."

During his 542 days as deputy commissary of fresh provisions in 1776 and 1777 Eaphroditus
compiled an imposing service record; he "received alive and delivered slaughtered or dressed for
the use of the army 3,019,554 pounds of beef, 40,275 pounds of mutton, 18,639 pounds of pork,
[and] 19,913 pounds of fat. Also, I received and delivered alive 3,257 beef cattle, 657 fat sheep, and
35 fat hogs." In his role as purchasing commissary he "purchased and delivered for the use of the
army 3,710 fat cattle and 758 fat sheep ..."

While livestock could be herded where it was needed, difficulties were often encountered,
especially when confronted with a substantial waterway. Beef cattle in large numbers are not easily
carried on shipboard and even river crossings posed problems. In 1780 Oliver Phelps,
"Superintend[ant of] Continental Purchases," wrote the Quartermaster General,

In forwarding public Cattle to Head Quarters the Drovers meet with the greatest difficulty in crossing
Hudsons River, Some times have to tarry by the river two or three days before the Ferry men can be
prevailed with to carry them a cross and no forrage to be got near the River, so the Cattle are in a
starving condition while they are detained there - not less than Thirty has been drowned lately by bad
conduct in the Ferrymen - I am repeatedly informed by the drovers, that they are treated with the
greatest [ill-nature?] and ill-language by the Ferrymen - They express much joy at drowning Cattle.

Where ferries were unavailable or considered impractical there was another option for crossing
livestock. During the march to Yorktown, Virginia, in August 1781 the commander in chief told
Major General Benjamin Lincoln, "I do not hesitate in giving it as my opinion that every horse and
Oxen should be Swam over the Delaware. A few Boats above and below the place they are made to
enter the River, to give them a proper direction, will remove all difficulty and greatly facilitate the
passage across."

Deputy Commissary Champion would have been quite familiar with the woes of caring for
animals on the move and in difficult circumstances. During the growing season cattle could be fed
by grazing, but the winter months posed a problem. From camp at New Windsor, New York, in

December 1781, Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering informed Deputy Quartermaster

I found on my arrival here ... a letter from Mr. Thomas D[eputy]C[ommissary] Genll of Issues
informing that about 200 head of cattle destined for the army were suffering for want of forage about
eight miles from Fishkill. From the tenor of his letter I should suppose many of them were too lean
for beef; these I hope will be spared from the knife. I wish the whole may be inspected immediately,
& a return made to me of their condition. Such as are fit for beef, I shall readily supply with forage so
long as it is necessary to keep them for a daily supply of fresh beef to the troops: but the rest ought to
be disposed of for it is impossible for us to fat them; & to slaughter them would be clearly improper.

Pickering enclosed "ten guineas" to purchase forage "to be delivered where the cattle are kept, or
rather, I suppose, you will have the cattle placed at one or two farmers who have forage to spare, &
that the persons charged with the cattle will see daily delivered to them the quantity of forage
necessary for them."

In February 1781 General Washington reiterated the difficulties of depending "on a daily supply of
live Cattle" as opposed to preserved beef. To Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut he wrote,

The negligence of the Purchaser, or the Driver, the badness of the roads, or interruption of water,
inevitably bring on a scarcity, which threatens the Army with dissolution. While on the contrary, a
large stock [of cattle] in hand, produced by whatever contingency, is attended with waste, as neither
the Commissary or Quarter Mastr. have the Means of disposing of the Cattle immediately, or
supporting them alive in Camp. I have not the least doubt, but that the Army might be fed at half the
present expence, by having proper Magazines [of salt provisions] laid in ...

Sometimes plans to lay in long-term stores were at odds with the immediate need to feed the army.
In December 1780 Washington had been notified by Samuel Osgood and Oliver Phelps,
"Contractors for supplying Beef, of "the Plan this Commonwealth [Massachusetts] has laid for
filling the Magazines with salt Provisions ... for 1781 ... amounting to about sixteen thousand
Barrels of Beef; with Directions to have the whole Quantity salted." They added the caveat that "if
we should proceed to Barrel the whole of it, we shall not be able to forward any more live Cattle; If
your Excellency should Judge that it will be of more Importance to have part of the Cattle
forwarded alive than to have the whole barreled, your Directions in this Matter will be sufficient
Justification of our Conduct ..." In any case the two contractors were apprehensive "that there is any
Probability of procuring so large a Quantity of Beef in this State at this late Season of the Year ... we
hope that what we have already delivered for salting & what we shall now procure will form a
Magazine of some Consequence."
In addition to precluding the need for animal forage, barreled salt beef simplified water carriage.
During the 1781 Yorktown Campaign General Washington notified the Maryland Governor, "Colo.
Blaine has gone himself over to the Eastern shore to see that the Cattle from thence are brought
down to the proper landings where they will be slaughtered, and the Meat sufficiently salted to be
transported by Water ..." This obviated the need to carry live animals across the Chesapeake Bay;
on the other hand the commander in chief wrote that "proper measures have been taken by the
Commissaries to receive the Cattle of the Western Shore, and to have them driven [south] by

Whether meat was salted or served up fresh, the army's butchers were an integral part of the
process. Though their job was often performed under crude campaign conditions, Fifer Samuel
Dewees described butchers working in a facility supporting the fortifications and barracks at West
Point, New York:

... I have been down at our slaughter-house at times for the purpose of assisting in carrying the
provision to camp, and have seen a great many cattle drove into it at one time. I recollect that, once
we had to wait until the butchers would kill. They drove upwards of a hundred sheep into the
slaughter-house, and as soon as the doors were closed, someof the butchers went to work and
knocked the sheep down in every direction with axes, whilst others followed and stuckor bled
them, others followed them, skinned them, hung them up and dressed them. A very short time
elapsed from the time they commenced butchering them until our meat was ready for us. I recollect
having been there at another time when they were killing bullocks ... I have known very great
numbers of very fine and fat cattle slaughtered there, but if I have, I have seen many very poor and
indifferent ones killed there also ... But with these we had to be content in the absence of better ..."

Just how many men would one animal feed? Records for the Revolutionary War have not been
found, but we can get some idea from C.L. Kilburn's 1863 work Preparing Stores for the United
States Army. He stipulated "Contracts for fresh beef should require steers, (not bulls, stags, heifers,
or cows,) over four years of age, and weighing ordinarily 500 pounds each, net" ("net" meaning
profit, or useable meat); "Prime mess pork is made of small hogs, fine boned, well fattened on corn
only, and weighing from 130 to 170 pounds net, each." Kilburn also listed parts excluded from mess
pork: "The head; the fore leg up to the breast or brisket and close to the body of the hog; the hind
leg, including the hock or gambrel joint; and the rump, if the hams are not cut up with the side." For
hogs we may deduct roughly one fifth to one quarter of the net weight if these undesirable cuts are
included in Kilburn's estimate of "130 to 170 pounds net, each." Assuming the hogs supplied to
Revolutionary armies were similar in size, 100 pounds of pork would supply a day's salt pork ration
for 173 soldiers, at 3/4 pound per man. Considering that 18th century beef cattle were likely smaller
than their later counterparts, an animal yielding 350 pounds of meat would feed 350 men for one

(For further discussion of barreled salt meats see Rees, "'Our pie-loving ... stomachs ... ache to even
look.': Durable Foods for Armies, 1775-1865," Food History News, vol. IX, no. 4, Spring 1998)


"A Country Waggon from Long Island & New York" (drawn circa 1778), also known as a "Dutch"
wagon. Francis Rush Clark, "Inspector and Superintendent of His Majesty's Provision Train of
Wagons and Horses," wrote: "These were taken promiscuously from the Farmers on Long & Island
Staten Island, & some from the Jerseys. Many of them in a wretch'd Condition, & none having any
Cover, to protect their Loading." "Narrative of Occurences, relative to His Majesty's Provision Train
in North America," (circa 1778), Francis Rush Clark Papers (no. 2338), Sol Feinstone Collection,
David Library of the American Revolution. Drawing courtesy of the David Library, Washington
Crossing, Pa.)

Selected works by John U. Rees related to food in the armies of the American Revolution:
"'The foundation of an army is the belly.' North American Soldiers' Food, 1756-1945," ALHFAM:
Proceedings of the 1998 Conference and Annual Meeting, vol. XXI (The Assoc. for Living History, Farm and
Agricultural Museums, Bloomfield, Ohio, 1999), 49-64. Part I. "'I live on raw salt pork ... hard bread and sugar.':
The Evolution of Soldiers' Rations," and, Part II. "Salt Beef to C Rations: A Compendium of North American
Soldiers' Rations, 1756-1945" (For Verger, see endnote #34) (World Wide Web,

“Rations and cooking,” Mark M. Boatner, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution: Library of Military
History, Harold E. Selesky, ed. (2
Edition, Charles Scribner’s Sons, May 2006), 622-624.

“Historical Overview: The Revolutionary War,” Andrew F. Smith, ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and
Drink in America, 2 vols. (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2004), vol. 1, 622-624.

“`A capital dish …’: Revolutionary Soldiers and Chocolate,” Brigade Dispatch, vol. XXXVIII, no. 3
(Autumn 2008), 2-17.

“`General Wayne's detachment is almost starving.’: Provisioning Washington’s Army on the March, June 1778,”
Appendix N of "’What is this you have been about to day?’: The New Jersey Brigade at the Battle of

"'To subsist an Army well ...': Soldiers' Cooking Equipment, Provisions, and Food
Preparation During the American War for Independence”:
"’All the tin Camp-kettles they can procure ...’: Iron Pots, Pans, and Light-
Weight Military Kettles, 1759-1782”
“Tin Kettles, 1759-1771”
“British Kettles in the American War, 1776-1781”
“Continental Army and States’ Militia, 1775-1780”
“American Sheet Iron Kettles, 1781-1782”
“Officers’ Cooking Equipment”
“Kettle Covers”
“’The extreme suffering of the army for want of … kettles …’:
Continental Soldiers and Kettle Shortages in 1782”
“’A disgusting incumbrance to the troops …’:
Linen Bags and Carts for Carrying Kettles”
“’The Kettles to be made as formerly …”
Kettle Capacity and Weight, and Archaeological Finds”
“Kettle Capacity and Sizes, 1759-1782”
“Louisbourg Kettle, Cape Breton Island”
“Fort Ligonier (Buckets or Kettles?)”
“Rogers Island (Bucket or Kettle?)”
“1812 Kettles, Fort Meigs, Ohio”
“Overview of Cooking Equipment, 1775-1783”
Military Collector & Historian, vol. 53, no. 1 (Spring 2001), 7-23.

“The common necessaries of life …” A Revolutionary Soldier’s Wooden Bowl,” including, “’Left sick on the
Road’: An Attempt to Identify the Soldier Left at the Paxson Home, ‘Rolling Green,’ June 1778.”)

“`Six of our regt lived together …’: Mess Groups, Carrying Food … (and a Little Bit of Tongue) in the Armies of
the Revolution”
Mess Groups
Food Distribution
Carrying Food
The Burden of Rations
And … Tongue

"`As many fireplaces as you have tents ...': Earthen Camp Kitchens”:
Part I. "`Kitchens sunk ... for the soldiers to Cook in.': The History of Cooking
Excavations and Their Use in North America"
Part II. Complete 1762 Kitchen Description and Winter Covering for Field Kitchens
Part III. "`Ordered to begin work ...': Digging a Field Kitchen"

"`To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.’: Soldiers' Food and Cooking in the War
for Independence”
"The manner of messing and living together": Continental Army Mess Groups
“Who shall have this?”: Food Distribution
"A hard game ...": Continental Army Cooks
“On with Kittle, to make some hasty Pudding …”: How a "Continental Devil" Broke His Fast
1. The Army Ration and Cooking Methods.
2. Eating Utensils.
3. The Morning Meal.
4. Other Likely Breakfast Fare.
“The men were very industrious, in baking, all the forepart of the evening.”: Soldiers’ Ingenuity,
Regimental Bakers, and the Issue of Raw Flour
“The Commissary [is] desired … to furnish biscuit and salt provisions …”:
Hard Bread in the War for Independence.
"The victuals became putrid by sweat & heat ...": Some Peripheral Aspects of Feeding an Army
1. The Ways Soldiers Carried Food
2. The Burden of Rations, 1762-1783
3. Carrying Drink and Procuring Water
4. Equipment Shortages
5. Spoilage of Issued Meats
"We had our cooking utensils ... to carry in our hands.": Continental Army Cooking and Eating Gear,
and Camp Kitchens, 1775-1782
#50. Compendium of Ration Allotments, 1754-1782
Continental Army rations (summary)
British Army rations (summary)
Caloric Requirements and Intake
#73. Miscellaneous returns of cooking gear and eating utensils, 1778-1781
(Appended) List of author’s articles on food in the armies of the American Revolution

Food History News series (
"’It was my turn to cook for the Mess’: Provisions of the Common Soldier in the Continental Army, 1775–
1783,” Food History News, vol. VII, no. 1 (Fall 1995), 2, 8.
"’Sometimes we drew two days rations at a time.’: The Soldiers' Daily Issue,” FHN, vol. VII, no. 3 (Winter
1995), 2–3.
"’Drew 2 pound of Shugar and 1 pound of Coffee’: Extraordinary Foodstuffs Issued the Troops,” FHN, vol.
VIII, no. 1 (Summer 1996), 2–3.
"’The unreasonable prices extorted ... by the market People’: Camp Markets and the Impact of the Economy,”
FHN, vol. VII, no. 4 (Spring 1996), 2–3.
"’Complaint has been made by many of the Inhabitants’: Soldiers' Efforts to Supplement the Ration Issue,”
FHN, vol. VIII, no. 2 (Fall 1996), 1–2, 7.

"’Whilst in this country’: Sullivan's Expedition and the Carolina Campaigns,” FHN, vol. VIII, no. 3 (Winter
1996), 2, 6–7.
"’Hard enough to break the teeth of a rat.’: Biscuit and Hard Bread in the Armies of the Revolution,” (Also in
the same issue, information on cooking with biscuit and hardtack during the American Civil War and the War for
Independence in "Joy of Historical Cooking: Using Hardtack & Crackers."), FHN, vol. VIII, no. 4 (Spring 1997), 2,
3–5, 6–7.
"’The essential service he rendered to the army’: Christopher Ludwick, Superintendent of Bakers,” FHN, vol.
IX, no. 1 (Summer 1997), 2, 6.
“’The Gingerbread Man’: More on Washington’s Baking Superintendent, Then and Now,” FHN, vol. XVII, no.
1 (Summer 2005), 2.
"’As many fireplaces as you have tents’: Earthen Camp Kitchens,” FHN, vol. IX, no. 2 (Fall 1997), 2, 8–9, plus
“Matt and I Dig a Kitchen: Recreating an 18th–Century Cooking Excavation,” FHN, vol. IX, no. 3 (Winter 1998), 2.
Also published as "Earthen Camp Kitchens,” Muzzleloader, vol. XXX, no. 4 (September/October 2003), 59–64. For
online version see (World Wide Web),
"’Our pie–loving ... stomachs ... ache to even look.’: Durable Foods for Armies, 1775–1865,” FHN, vol. IX, no.
4 (Spring 1998), 2, 7–8.
"’Tell them never to throw away their ... haversacks or canteens’: Finding Water and Carrying Food During
the War for Independence and the American Civil War,” FHN, vol. X, no. 1 (37), 2, 8–9.
"’The victuals became putrid by sweat & heat’: Equipment Shortages, the Burden of Rations and Spoilage
During the War for Independence and the War Between the States,” FHN, vol. X, no. 2 (38), 2, 6–7.
"’False hopes and temporary devices’: Organizing Food Supply in the Continental Army”:
part I. “’To subsist an Army well’: An Organizational Overview,” FHN, vol. XII, no. 3 (47), 2, 9–10.
part II. “’Owing to this variety of waste …’: Producing, Storing, and Transporting Bread,” FHN, vol. XII,
no. 4 (48), 2, 9–10.
part III. “’We now have 500 head of fat cattle’: Procuring, Transporting, and Processing Livestock,” FHN,
vol. XII, no. 4 (48), 2, 8–9.
“’A perfect nutriment for heroes!’: Apples and North American Soldiers, 1757–1918,”
FHN, vol. XIV, no. 1 (53), 2, 6.
“’The oficers are Drunk and Dancing on the table …’: U.S Soldiers and Alcoholic Beverages,” FHN, vol. XIV,
no. 2 (54), 2.
“’The repast was in the English fashion …’: Washington’s Campaign for Refined Dining in the War for
Independence,” FHN, vol. XIV, no. 3 (55), 2.
"’Give us Our Bread Day by Day.’: Continental Army Bread, Bakers, and Ovens”:
part I. “’Waste and bad management …’: Regulating Baking,” FHN, vol. XV, no. 4 (60), 2, 9.
part II.“’A bake–house was built in eleven days …’: Contemporary Baking Operations and Army Masonry
Ovens,” FHN, vol. XVI, no. 1 (61), 2, 8.
part III. “’Seeing that the Ovens may be done right …’: Bake Oven Designs,” FHN, vol. XVI, no. 3 (63), 2,
part IV. “’The mask is being raised!!’: Denouement: Early–War Iron Ovens, and a Yorktown Campaign
Bakery,” FHN, vol. XVI, no. 4 (64), 2.
“’Invited to dine with Genl Wayne; an excellent dinner …’: Revolutionary Commanders’ Culinary Equipage
in Camp and on Campaign”:
part 1 “’Plates, once tin but now Iron …’: General Washington’s Mess Equipment,” FHN, vol. XVII, no. 2
(66), 2, 8.
part 2 “’40 Dozens Lemons, in a Box’: British Generals’ Provisions and Mess Equipage,” FHN, vol. XVII,
no. 3 (67), 2, 8.
part 3 “’A Major General & family’: Nathanael Greene’s Food Ware,” FHN, vol. XVII, no. 4 (68), 2.
part 4 “’My poor cook is almost always sick …’: General Riedesel Goes to America,” FHN, vol. XVIII, no.
1 (69), 2–3.

“’Sufficient for the army for fifteen days …’: Continental Army Frozen Rations,” FHN, vol. XVIII, no. 2 (70),
"’The manner of messing and living together’: Continental Army Mess Groups, FHN, vol. XVIV, no. 2 (74), 2,
"’A hard game’: Cooks in the Continental Army” (not yet published)
“’On with Kittle, to make some hasty Pudding …’: How a ‘Continental Devil’ Broke His Fast” (not yet
"’We had our cooking utensils ... to carry in our hands.’: Light-Weight Military Kettles, 1775-1782” (not yet
published). (Included in the endnotes: “Tin Kettles, 1759-1771”; “British and German Kettles”; “Kettle Capacity and
Weight, and Excavated Artifacts, Circa 1750-1815.”)
"’They were made of cast iron and consequently heavy.’: Eating Utensils and Less Commonly Used Cooking
Implements, 1775-1783” (not yet published)
"’A better repast’: Continental Army Field and Company Officers’ Fare” (series closing column, not yet

A detachment on the march. All carry food in knapsacks or haversacks, and several carry
camp kettles in their hands or slung in linen bags. The lone female follower carries a
blanket roll and a market wallet. (Dunlap’s Partisan Corps as portrayed by the Augusta
County Militia and friends. Picquet post at Brandywine event, 24-26 September 2010.)


The following works are indispensable to any study of Continental Army organization and supply

Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, D.C., 1983), 114-115.

Erna Risch, Supplying Washington's Army (Washington, D.C., 1981), 177.

1. Henry Knox to Washington, 24 March 1781, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers
Microfilm (Washington, 1961), series 4, reel 76.
2. Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, D.C., 1983), 36, 114-115. Erna Risch,
Supplying Washington's Army (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1981), 171,
176, 177. Ms. Risch's work gives the most detailed treatment of Continental Army logistical
support. Another excellent work, focusing more on the political aspects of supply, is E. Wayne
Carp, To Starve an Army at Pleasure: Continental Army Administrators and Political Culture,
1775-1783 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1984).
3. Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, D.C., 1983), 114-115. Erna Risch,
Supplying Washington's Army (Washington, D.C., 1981), 177.
4. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789, vol. VIII
(Washington, D.C., 1907), 439. For a broadside text of the 1777 commissary department
reorganization see, Congressional Resolution, "Extracts from the Minutes. Published by Order of
Congress," 10 June 1777, Washington Papers, series 4, reel 42.
5. Erna Risch, Supplying Washington's Army, 29.
6. Samuel Hazard, ed., Pennsylvania Archives. Selected and Arranged from Original Documents ...,
vol. VIII (Philadelphia, Joseph Severns & Co., 1853), 472-473.
7. Washington to John Cadwalader, 5 October 1780, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol 17 (1937), 121-122.
8. Complaints against the Contractors, May 1782, Washington Papers, series 4, reel 85.
9. Ibid. Elias Dayton to William Heath; 28 May 1783, Heath to Washington, 29 May 1783,
Washington Papers, series 4, reel 91.
10. "An Estimate of Provisions in the Hands of Joseph Trumbull Esqr. late Commissary General
and ready to be delivered over to the Commissary General of Issue ...", 8 August 1777, Washington
Papers, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm (Washington, D.C., 1961), series
4, reel 43.
11. Washington to Philip Livingston, Elbridge Gerry, and George Clymer (Committee of Congress),
19 July 1777, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original
Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, vol. 8, (Washington, DC, 1933), 441.
12. Christopher Ludwick to the Continental Congress, 4 August 1777, The Papers of the
Continental Congress 1774-1789, National Archives Microfilm Publications M247 (Washington,
DC, 1958), reel 50, 193-194. Washington to Christopher Ludwick, 25 July 1777, Fitzpatrick, WGW,
vol. 8 (1933), 475.
13. George Clinton to George Washington, 24 July 1777, Washington Papers, series 4, reel 43.
14. Henry Knox to Washington, 24 March 1781, ibid., series 4, reel 76.
15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Erna Risch, Supplying Washington's Army (Washington, D.C., 1981), 66-71, 75. For an
excellent overview of wagons, transporting supplies to the army, and all the difficulties encountered
see, ibid., 64-90. See also, John U. Rees, "`Employed in carrying cloathing & provisions': Wagons
and Watercraft During the War for Independence," Part I. "`Country Waggons,' `Tumbrils,' and
`Philadelphia Carts': Wheeled Transport in the Armies of the Revolution," ALHFAM Bulletin
(Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums), vol. XXIX, no. 3 (Fall 1999), 4-
9, and The Continental Soldier (Journal of the Continental Line), vol. XII, no. 2 (Winter 1999), 18-
19. Moore Furman to Daniel Marsh, 29 August 1779, The Letters of Moore Furman, Deputy
Quarter-Master General of New Jersey in the Revolution (New York, N.Y., 1912), 15.
20. E. Wayne Carp, To Starve the Army at Pleasure (Chapel Hill and London, Univ. of North
Carolina Press, 1984), 61-63.
21. In 1776 troops under American General Horatio Gates were marching south to reinforce
General George Washington. Chaplain David Avery, 15th Massachusetts Regiment, noted "We
now have 500 head of fat cattle in the rear, this side Bethlehem, which have followed Sullivan's
division." Avery wrote that at least some of the cattle had come all the way from Connecticut.
William M. Dwyer, The Day is Ours! (New York, N.Y., 1983), 206. (Original source, David
Avery's diary, Connecticut Historical Society. The diary can be found in "The Papers of David
Avery, 1746-1818"; microfilmed documents and diary transcript held by the Speer Library of the
Princeton Theological Seminary.)
22. Eaphroditus Champion served as "deputy commissary of fresh provisions from April 1776 to
October 1777 with the main army; purchasing commissary from October 1777 to February 1778,
also with the main army; deputy to his father, supplying fresh beef from the Connecticut Valley to
Valley Forge from February to May 1778; and again as a regularly appointed commissary from
May 1778 until January 1780, stationed in the Connecticut Valley, buying and sending on cattle to
the army." John C. Dann, ed., The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for
Independence (Chicago and London, 1980), 366-371. "The Instruction of Frederick the Great for
His Generals," first printed in English in 1762 under the title "Military Instructions by the King of
Prussia." Thomas R. Phillips, Brig. Gen., ed., Roots of Strategy (Harrisburg, Pa., 1985), 324.
23. Champion deposition, The Revolution Remembered, 367.
24. Worthington Chauncey Ford, Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789, vol. VIII
(Washington, D.C., 1907), 439, 446. For a broadside text of the 1777 commissary department
reorganization see, Congressional Resolution, "Extracts from the Minutes. Published by Order of
Congress," 10 June 1777, George Washington Papers, Presidential Papers Microfilm (Washington,
D.C., GPO, 1961), series 4, reel 42.
25. Champion deposition, The Revolution Remembered, 368.
26. Ibid., 368-371.
27. Ibid., 371.
28. Oliver Phelps to Timothy Pickering, 27 November 1780, Miscellaneous Numbered Records
(The Manuscript File) in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1775-
1790's, Record Group 93, National Archives Microfilm Publication M859, reel 82, no. 23736.

29. Washington to Benjamin Lincoln, 24 August 1781, John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of
George Washington, 23 (Washington, GPO, 1937), 43.
30. Timothy Pickering to Hugh Hughes (DQM) or Major Keese (ADQM), from New Windsor, 16
December 1781, Numbered Record Books Concerning Military Operations and Service, Pay and
Settlement Accounts, and Supplies in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War
Records, Record Group 93, National Archives Microfilm Publication M853 (Washington, D.C.,
1973), vol. 82, target 2, reel 26, 250-251.
31. George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull, 4 February 1781, Fitzpatrick, WGW, vol. 21
(Washington, DC, 1937), 181.
32. Samuel Osgood and Oliver Phelps to Washington, 15 December 1780, Washington Papers,
series 4, reel 73.
33. Washington to Thomas Sim Lee, Governor of Maryland, 12 October 1781, Fitzpatrick, WGW,
vol. 23 (1937), 209-210.
34. Samuel Dewees, A History of the Life and Services of Captain Samuel Dewees ... The whole
written (in part from a manuscript in the handwriting of Captain Dewees) and compiled by John
Smith Hanna (Printed by R. Neilson, 1844), 163-165.
35. C.L. Kilburn, Preparing Stores for the United States Army; and on the Care of the Same, Etc. ...
(Cincinnati, W.A. Webb, Printer, 1863), 9, 23 (Kilburn was a Lt. Colonel and assistant commissary
general of subsistence). "A Return of Provisions &c. Purchased and Delivered, under the Direction
of Udny Hay Agent for the State of New York, from August to 30 November 1780 ..." (enclosed in
Udny Hay to Washington, 29 December 1780), Washington Papers, series 4, reel 73.


A private of the 4 th Connecticut Regiment.
The author at the March 2014 Model Company event at Valley Forge.


Soldiers of the 4th Connecticut Regiment, 1778.
Model Company event, Valley Forge. 29-30 March 2014.

World of the Common Soldier

John U. Rees
136 North Sugan Road,
New Hope, Pa. 18938
Phone: (215) 862-2348

John Rees has written almost 200 articles and monographs since 1986 on various aspects of
the common soldiers' experience, focusing primarily on the War for Independence. Current
works and interests include soldiers’ food (1755 to the present day), Continental Army
conscription (1777-1782), the organization and service of the late-war Pennsylvania battalions,
and the common soldiers’ burden.
John’s work has appeared in the ALHFAM Bulletin (Association of Living History, Farm, and
Agricultural Museums), American Revolution (Magazine of the American Revolution
Association), The Brigade Dispatch (Journal of the Brigade of the American Revolution), The
Continental Soldier (Journal of the Continental Line), Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and
Culture, Journal of the Johannes Schwalm Historical Association, Military Collector &
Historian, Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military, Muzzleloader Magazine, On
Point: The Newsletter of the Army Historical Foundation, Percussive Notes (Journal of the
Percussive Arts Society), and Repast (Quarterly Publication of the Culinary Historians of Ann
Arbor). He was a regular columnist for the quarterly newsletter Food History News for 15 years
writing on soldiers' food, wrote four entries for the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Food and
Drink, thirteen entries for the revised Thomson Gale edition of Boatner’s Encyclopedia of the
American Revolution, contributed a chapter to Carol Karels’ The Revolutionary War in Bergen
County (2007), and two chapters to Barbara Z. Marchant’s Revolutionary Bergen County, The
Road to Independence (2009). A partial article list plus many complete works are available
online at . Selected Civil War monographs posted
online at Additional monographs posted at