Organization of the Commissariat
From 1775 until the summer of 1781 a commissariat system was used to provision the Continental Army. During that six-year period, four men-Joseph Trumbull, William Buchanan, Jeremiah Wadsworth, and Ephraim Blaine-successively directed Commissary affairs with varying degrees of success. The victory at Yorktown virtually ended military operations, but the provisional articles of peace were not signed until 30 November 1782, and the definitive treaty of peace did not follow until 3 September 1783. During these months of watchful waiting, the commissariat system was completely abandoned in favor of a contract system, which had been partially applied on the eve of the Yorktown campaign.
Even before the outbreak of hostilities, the colonies, particularly those in New England, had taken some preparatory measures to accumulate provisions for any emergency. Once the conflict was joined, the New England colonies generally subsisted their soldiers gathered about Boston by resorting to the same procedures that they had utilized on previous occasions when colonial troops had been dispatched on short campaigns or expeditions. The colonies had been accustomed to collecting and issuing provisions to their men through commissaries whose appointments expired upon completion of the mission on which the troops had been sent.
On 22 February 1775 the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, at the direction of the colony's Provincial Congress, appointed a commissary-John Pigeon-to subsist its troops. In October of the previous year the Provincial Congress had established a Committee of Supplies to purchase and store rations, arms, and ordnance stores at Worcester and Concord in readiness for any demands that might be made. When hostilities began, Pigeon delivered provisions to Cambridge, taking orders form Maj. Gen. Artemas Ward, commander of the forces besieging Boston.1 As soon as the conflict began in April 1775, the Connecticut Assembly took steps to protect its available food supply and also appointed a commissary general to provide rations for its troops at Cambridge. It named Joseph Trumbull,
1. (1) Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775 and of the Committee of Safety and Supplies (Boston, 1838), pp. 96-97, 518 (22 and 24 Feb 75). (2) Force, Am. Arch., 4th set., 2:1141 (Ward to Pigeon, 30 Jun 75).
son of Governor Jonathan Trumbull, to the post and designated nine commissaries to assist him in the colony.2 Though the Connecticut Assembly at first set no renumeration for these commissaries, it subsequently allowed them a commission of 1 ½ percent on all supplies purchased. New Hampshire and Rhode Island took similar action. New Hampshire appointed Moses Emerson as commissary to supply its troops. Rhode Island designated Peter Phillips as its commissary and authorized him to appoint deputies to assist him in provisioning its troops. Commissary Phillips and the members of the Rhode Island Committee of Safey were also paid 1 ½ percent upon all purchases they made.3
Though in the past necessity had not dictated the organization of a permanent commissariat in any colony, it was obvious that one would be required to maintain troops in the field in any prolonged struggle.4 In consequence, the Continental Congress established the office of Commissary General of Stores and Provisions for the Continental Army in June 1775, at the same time that it created the post of Quartermaster General. It fixed the Commissary General's pay at 80 dollars a month.5 However, Congress made no appointment at that time, nor did it define the functions of the office or provide a plan of organization.
Appointment of Trumbull
After Washington took command of the Continental Army, he advised Joseph Trumbull that Congress would have to appoint a commissary general and that he would recommend Trumbull for the post. Washington was much impressed with the efficient way in which the latter had been provisioning the Connecticut soldiers concentrated near Boston. Trumbull thought the appointee ought to come from Connecticut inasmuch as most of the provisions for Washington's troops while they remained before Boston would be drawn from the fertile Connecticut River valley. Since he was thoroughly acquainted with Connecticut's resources, he considered himself well qualified for the post. In any case, he felt it was the only berth
2. (1) The commissaries were Oliver Wolcott, Henry Champion, Thomas Mumford, Jedediah Strong, Jeremiah Wadsworth, Thomas Howell, Samuel Squier, Amasa Keys, and Hezekiah Bissell. Some of these men later served in the Commissary Department that supported the Continental Army. (2) See also Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 2:418 (Conn. Assembly, 26 Apr 75); 574 (11 May 75).
3. Ibid., 4th set., 2:655 (25 May 75); 1146, 1147, 1151 (R.I. Assembly, 17 May 75).
4. The British army in America also had a Commissary General, but its Commissariat was concerned primarily with the distribution of rations. Procurement was handled under contracts negotiated by the Treasury Board. Provisions were shipped from Cork, Ireland, to provision depots at Quebec, Montreal, New York, Charleston, and Savannah. It was at these points that the British Commissariat took over distribution. Edward E. Curtis, "The Provisioning of the British Army in the Revolution," The Magazine of History 18 (1914) : 232-3)3.
5. JCC, 2:94 (16 Jun 75).
left worth having, and he solicited the support of influential friends in Congress to obtain the appointment. On 19 July, following the arrival of Washington's recommendation, Congress appointed Trumbull Commissary General of Stores and Provisions for the Continental Army.6
Though Congress created the office of Commissary General in the summer of 1775, two years elapsed before it enacted a regulatory measure for the department. In the meantime Trumbull had to evolve a system for purchasing and issuing subsistence. So effective was the plan he instituted that during his tenure the Continental Army was generally well supplied with subsistence. He began by incorporating into one centralized system the supply arrangements that earlier in 1775 the various commissaries had been using to provision the troops of the New England colonies at Cambridge. In this task he was aided by orders from Washington directing these commissaries to make returns of all provisions stored in their magazines and to close their accounts.7 In building his organization, Trumbull retained the services of some of these commissaries.
Like Mifflin's organization of the Quartermaster's Department, Trumbull's organization of the Commissary Department in the field reflected the distribution of the Continental troops around Boston. By 1776 Trumbull had established four issuing stores, each headed by a storekeeper. The stores at Cambridge and Roxbury each issued provisions to two brigades; those at Prospect Hill and Medford each supported one brigade. Charles Miller, who had earlier served as deputy to Pigeon in provisioning the troops of Massachusetts Bay, headed the principal issuing store at Cambridge and employed the largest number of clerks.8 Aaron Blaney served as issuing storekeeper at Roxbury. Trumbull appointed Peter Phillips, former commissary for the Rhode Island troops, issuing storekeeper at Prospect Hill, and Moses Emerson,. former commissary for the New Hampshire troops, issuing storekeeper at Medford. Each of these storekeepers employed clerks to keep accounts, handle the issue of weekly allowances, weigh provisions, and pay small bills. They also employed laborers, coopers, and cooks. Trumbull's organization in addition included a number of magazine keepers who had charge of supplies at deposit points about twenty miles from camp on roads leading to the magazines at Cambridge and Roxbury. Trumbull had flour deposited at these backup magazines, and he
6. (1) Ibid., 2:190. (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 1:324 (to Pres of Cong, 10 Jul 75). (3) Samuel B. Webb, Correspondence and Journals of Samuel B. Webb, ed. Worthington C. Ford, 3 vols. (New York, 1893 -94), 1:78 (to Silas Deane, I I Jul 75); 3:243 (Trumbull to Deane, 6 Jul 75). (4) Burnett, Letters, 1:168 (Eliphalet Dyer to Trumbull, 21 Jul 75). Dyer was Trumbull's father-in-law. See 1: 170 (Benjamin Harrison to Washington, 21 Jul 75).
7. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 3:378 (GO, 31 Jul 75).
8. Victor L. Johnson, The Administration of the American Commissariat During the Revolutionary War (Philadelphia, 1941), p. 15.
also had cattle and hogs driven to them to be slaughtered, salted, and packed to satisfy the demands of Washington's army.
In preparing a personnel report for Trumbull in January 1776, Miller indicated that, in addition to a small salary, it was customary to grant an issuing storekeeper or commissary any savings from the amount allowed for leakage and wastage. This allowance was one-eighth the value of all the provisions he handled. That method of payment, he asserted, encouraged the commissary to be very careful in the performance of his duties. Trumbull sent this suggestion to Congress together with his proposals for per them salaries and ration allowances for all field employees.9 Four months later Congress established their remuneration. It ignored Miller's suggestion, but largely followed what Trumbull had proposed. It fixed the pay of the issuing storekeepers at Cambridge and Roxbury at 50 dollars a month each and of those at Prospect Hill and Medford at 40 dollars a month each. It also allowed four rations per day to these storekeepers. At the same time, however, Trumbull was unhappy with the fixed salary paid him since his department's establishment, and he hinted at resignation. "Fatal Consequences" would be the result, Washington wrote the President of Congress, for "he is a Man well cut out for the business; and that where a Shilling is saved in the Pay, a pound may be lost by Mismanagement in the Office." He suggested the propriety of handsomely rewarding the Commissary General, since he held such an important, troublesome, and hazardous office. Before Congress received this letter, it had determined to continue payment of a fixed salary for the Commissary General, but it did increase the amount to 120 dollars a month.10 Trumbull's hope of being paid a commission was dashed.
In addition to this field organization, Trumbull's department included a procurement arm which consisted of purchasing agents, later referred to as deputies. They were paid a commission instead of a fixed salary. Although the amount of this commission had not yet been set in January 1776 when Trumbull employed purchasing agents at Newburyport in Massachusetts, at New York City, at Providence, and at other places, a commission of 2 to 2 ½ percent was eventually paid on the funds they spent in the purchase of subsistence. As commissary general for the Connecticut troops in 1775,
9. Force, Am. Arch., 4th set., 4:842-44 (Trumbull memorial and enclosures, 23 Jan 76).
10. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 5:120-21 (to Pres ofCong, 10 Jun 76). (2) JCC, 4:385-87 (24 May 76). Field personnel other than issuing storekeepers received the following per day:
Pay Rations First clerks 4s. 8d. 3 All other clerks 3s.4d. 2 Magazine keepers 4s. 8d. 3 Coopers 2s. 8d. 1 Cooks 2s. 8d. 1 Laborers 2s. 8d. 1
Trumbull had been assisted by nine purchasing commissaries in Connecticut. After becoming responsible for subsisting the Continental Army, he continued using these agents. Most of these men, as well as other agents he later utilized in procurement, were merchants, experienced in purchasing. Most of his agents, too, were Connecticut men-a fact that bred envy and criticism of that state because some considered it to be prospering unduly by the war.
Although Congress had established a Commissary General of Stores and Provisions, it had not outlined the extent of his authority. Trumbull assumed it encompassed the Continental Army, but when the main army moved to New York, he found his control of all commissary matters threatened. With a lack of attention to overlapping jurisdictions, Congress had promoted confusion by multiplying the number of independent agents authorized to procure subsistence for the troops. In December 1775, for example, it had advanced money to Carpenter Wharton, who had contracted to supply rations to the battalions being raised in Pennsylvania; this practice was not uncommon, but when the Pennsylvania troops moved to New York, Wharton continued to supply them at the direction of Congress.11
In the meantime, Congress had requested the New York Convention or the Committee of Safety to contract with proper persons to supply its troops employed in defending that area. It advanced the sum of 35,000 dollars for the purpose. The New York Convention promptly made a contract with Abraham Livingston, a fact that Washington learned when he arrived in New York in April and found Livingston claiming the right to provision all the troops there except those who had arrived from Cambridge. Washington feared this arrangement would produce confusion. The problem was resolved when Abraham Livingston voluntarily relinquished his contract in May.12 At the end of June, Washington warned that conflicts and competition for subsistence would inevitably result if Congress carried out its proposal to appoint Carpenter Wharton as a commissary for provisioning the flying camp which it had ordered to be established in New Jersey in 1776 for the defense of the middle states. He therefore intervened, insisting that only one man ought to direct the work of the Commissary Department and that this man ought to be Trumbull. The latter, under the impression that he had the authority, was already making arrangements for subsisting the flying camp. Congress modified its arrangements with Wharton. It provided that he should furnish rations to the troops marching from Pennsylvania to New Jersey only so long as Trumbull did not direct otherwise.13
11. Ibid., 3:419 (9 Dec 75); 4:210 (16 Mar 76).
12. (1) Ibid., 4:159-60, 260, 338, 346 (17 Feb, 6 Apr, 9 and 10 May 76). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 4:503-04 (to Pres of Cong, 22 Apr 76).
13. (1) Ibid., 5:190-92 (to Pres of Cong, 28 Jun 76). (2) JCC, 5:523 (6 Jul 76).
Far more prolonged was a controversy over commissary affairs in the Northern Department. The episode was "symptomatic of the jealousy that already existed between the New Englanders and the New Yorkers, and its effect was to foment still further the discord between these two groups."14 Even before Congress appointed Trumbull as Commissary General, it had recommended to Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut that he appoint commissaries at Albany to receive and forward provisions to the forces on Lake Champlain. Consequently, the governor, on 8 June 1775, appointed Elisha Phelps as commissary for these forces. In accordance with the terms of his appointment, Phelps stationed himself at Albany to receive and forward supplies.15
The following month Congress assigned Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler, a New Yorker, to the command of the Northern Department. He found so much wanton waste and embezzlement of food and utter confusion in subsisting the troops that he requested Congress to appoint a commissary. He recommended his nephew, Walter Livingston, another New Yorker, for the post. On 17 July, approximately a month after Congress had established the Commissary Department but two days before it appointed Joseph Trumbull to head it, Congress designated Livingston as commissary of stores and provisions in the Northern Department.16 Thus when Schuyler became commanding general of the Northern Department, not only were Connecticut troops brought under his command but a Connecticut commissary, Elisha Phelps, was superseded by a New Yorker. These developments aroused a feeling of jealousy on the part of New England officers and troops.
Congress had actually limited Walter Livingston's appointment to "the present campaign," meaning that of 1775, but he continued to provision the troops in the Northern Department in 1776 and apparently did not consider himself under Trumbull's direction. Instead, he disputed Trumbull's authority and that of Elisha Avery, a deputy sent to Ticonderoga by the Commissary General to accompany Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, who had been appointed to take command of the army in Canada. Livingston had the full support of Schuyler in this controversy, which only increased the confusion in the commissariat in the Northern Department. In July 1776 Congress settled this dispute in favor of Trumbull when it resolved that the Commissary General had full power to supply the armies both in New York
14. E. C. Burnett, "The Continental Congress and Agricultural Supplies," Agricultural History 2 (1928):116.
15. (1) JCC, 2:74-75 (1 Jun 75). (2) See also Force, Am. Arch., 4th set., 2:973 (Phelps to Mass. Committee of Safety, 12 Jun 75); 1059 (same to N.Y. Cong, 22 Jun 75); 1570- 71 (Phelps warrant, 8 Jun 75).
16. (1) JCC, 2:186 (17 Jul 75). (2) RG 11, CC Papers, item 133, 2:18 (Schuyler to Pres of Cong, 11 Jul 75).
and in the north, to employ and appoint such persons under him as he judged expedient, and even to dismiss any deputy commissary.17
Despite this resolution Livingston persisted in his activities to such an extent that in September Trumbull presented a summary of conditions in the Northern Department to Congress and requested to be relieved from all responsibility. Congress took no action, for by that time Livingston had submitted his resignation. Trumbull was fully supported by the Continental Congress; President John Hancock wrote, "The honour and reputation with which you have hitherto executed the arduous and extensive business of your office, and the satisfaction you have afforded the publick, convince me that you will still continue to render your country all the service in your power." His authority so handsomely sustained, Trumbull agreed to remain in office despite his continuing dissatisfaction with his fixed salary.18
Trumbull never had any control over commissary supply in the Southern Department, though in the early years of the war the southern states served as a source of food for the troops operating in the Middle Department. Military operations were limited in the Southern Department before 1779, and such troops as did campaign there were provisioned by the individual states.19 On 27 April 1776 the Continental Congress appointed William Aylett as deputy commissary, general for the troops in Virginia. He operated independently of Trumbull, communicating with the Board of War and the President of the Continental Congress and receiving his instructions from Congress.20
Criticism of the Department
The cost of rations inevitably soon attracted the attention of members of Congress who wanted to reduce expenditures. Eliphalet Dyer wrote Trumbull in December 1775 that some members of Congress thought the Continental Army could be supplied by contract at much less expense and with equally good provisions. "They say now the rations Cost the Continent at least a shilling or 14d per diem law[ful] and they have heard persons say in Philadelphia they would undertake for 7d or 8d per diem." Subsistence
17. (1) JCC, 5:527 (8 Jul 76). (2) Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 1: 193 (Washington to Schuyler, 11 Jul 76).
18. (1) Ibid., 5th set., 2:213 - 14 (Trumbull to Pres of Cong, 8 Sep 76); 348 (16 Sep 76); 453 (Trumbull to Hancock, 22 Sep 76). (2) JCC, 5:752-53 (12 Sep 76).
19." For an example, see the arrangements made by South Carolina in June 1776 when Maj. Gm. Charles Lee took command in the Southern Department. (1) Charles Lee, The Lee Papers, New-York Historical Society Collections, vols. 4-7 (New York, 1872-75), 5:23, 36. See also 5:174, 233, 241. (2)JCC, 7:19-20 (8 Jan 77).
20. (1) RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 1:23 - 24 (Aylett to Pres of Bd of War, 3 Oct 76); 33 - 34 (slime to Richard Henry Lee, 26 Nov 76); 73 - 74, 77 - 79, 81 (Aylett to Pres of Cong, 13 and 18 Apr, 9 May 77). (2) JCC, 6:891 - 92 (21 Oct 76); 7:46, 92, 121 (18 Jan, 5 and 14 Feb 77). See also 4:315 (27 Apr 76).
supply looked attractive to contractors weighing the possibility of profit. Carpenter Wharton had contracted to supply the Pennsylvania troops ordered to the flying camp in New Jersey at the rate of 7 pence per ration.21
As Congress mulled over the idea of supply by contract, General Schuyler added his view that the cost of provisioning the troops in the Northern Department was far too high. He was not impugning the integrity of any commissary, he wrote the President of Congress, but "every man acquainted with publick business must allow that it cannot be carried on, for a variety of reasons, with that economy which prevails in private affairs." He described himself as "far from being a friend to contracts, on account of the chicane that usually attends them," yet a well-supervised contract appeared to him to be the lesser of two evils. A committee appointed to devise ways and means for providing the Northern Army with provisions submitted its recommendations in September 1776. On the basis of this report, Congress resolved that a committee should be sent to contract for rations to subsist the Northern Army. The components of the ration were each to be assigned a value, and the contractor was to pay in money for any part he failed to supply. This proposed contract was to be made along the lines recommended by General Schuyler.22
In passing this resolution, Congress characteristically was tampering again with Trumbull's authority to provision the Continental Army, an authority that only two weeks before it had assured Trumbull he possessed. The Commissary General sought the opinion of Elbridge Gerry on supplying the Northern Army by contract, and Gerry agreed that it was "absurd to supply one Army with and the other without a Contract." Fortunately for Trumbull, Congress changed its mind before the end of December. Acting on views expressed by its committee when it returned from Ticonderoga, Congress resolved that the Northern Army could be more advantageously supplied by the Commissary General than by contract.23
On the other hand, Congress approved of Aylett's proposal to contract for rationing the troops in Virginia.24 It also sanctioned contracts for provisioning troops in other instances. However, such contracts were usually used to supply small units separated from the main army or being recruited. Until Robert Morris took over the direction of financial matters as Superintendent of Finance and adopted the contract method, provisioning of the Continental Army was accomplished primarily by commissaries.
The activities of commissaries in the Middle Department stimulated
21. (1) Burnett, Letters, 1:278 (Dyer to Trumbull, 16 Dec 75). (2) JCC, 3:419 (9 Dec 75).
22. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 1: 1151-52 (Schuyler to Pres of Cong, 25 Aug 76). (2) JCC, 5:822, 828 (25 and 26 Sep 76).
23. (1) Burnett, Letters, 2:120, 125-26 (Gerry toTrumbull, 8 and 17 Oct 76). (2)KC, 6:1047 (28 Dec 76).
24. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 2:850 (Aylett to John Adams, 3 Oct 76). (2) JCC, 5:891 (21 Oct 76).
much more criticism than the cost of the ration. In December, 1776 Trumbull went to Hartford, Connecticut, to supervise the procurement and packing of salt provisions in New England for the next year's campaign and, at the same time, to prepare his books for inspection by the auditors of Congress. He appointed Carpenter Wharton to act as his sole deputy with Washington's army during his absence. Washington reluctantly agreed to this arrangement; he thought provisioning the troops during operations in New Jersey would require "an officer of much sagacity and diligence."25
Washington was justified in his fears. Wharton proved unsuccessful in provisioning the troops at the very time that the Commander in Chief was attempting to capitalize on the military advantage gained at Trenton. The main army was unable to move for lack of subsistence. Washington charged that he had to delay for two days before crossing the Delaware and then had to permit the troops to "victual themselves where they could." Without removing Wharton, Washington appointed Col. Thomas Lowrey to the post of deputy commissary general. Lowrey had for some time been engaged in provisioning two battalions being raised in New Jersey.26 He immediately set about purchasing supplies while Capt. Matthew Irwin, whom he selected as his deputy, accompanied the main army. To supplement Lowrey's efforts, Washington authorized Deputy Quartermaster General Francis Wade to seize all beef, pork, flour, and liquor not needed to subsist the inhabitants of eastern New Jersey and to establish a magazine at Newtown in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.27
Wharton's procurement methods drew widespread criticism. Early in 1777 both the President of Congress and Washington informed Trumbull of the complaints being made against his deputy. It was charged that Wharton had announced publicly that he was employed to purchase large quantities of rum, pork, and beef and that he was prepared to pay the highest price for each. In commenting on this charge, Roger Sherman wrote Trumbull, "I don't know on what terms you employ people but sure I am it will not do to employ them to purchase on Commissions unless you limit the prices: For the greater prices they give the more will be their profits, which is such a temptation as an honest man would not wish to be led into." Purchasing commissaries in the Middle Department were accused of enhancing prices by competitive bidding in order to swell their commissions. Washington requested Trumbull, who had remained at, Hartford
25. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 3:1202-03 (Trumbull to Pres of Cong, 13 Dec 76); 3:1242-43 (Washington to Trumbull, 16 Dec 76). (2) Washington Papers, 37:70 (Trumbull to Washington, 13 Dec 746).
26. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:457 (to Robert Morris, 30 Dec 76); 7:60-61 (to Robert Ogden, 24 Jan 77). (2) Washington Papers, 39:5 (Lowrey to Joseph Reed, 8 Jan 77). (3) See also JCC, 3:360, 415 (20 Nov and 8 Dec 75); 4:106 (31 Jan 76).
27. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:496 - 97 (to Wade, I I Jan 77).'
wrestling with his accounts, to return and regulate his department, but the order went unheeded. 28
Regulation of 1777
Criticism of the Commissariat inevitably led to congressional action and reorganization of the department. Investigation of Wharton's mismanagement of Commissary affairs resulted in a report by the Board of War in February 1777 that proposed separation of the purchasing and issuing functions of the Commissary General. This proposal was in agreement with the view of Washington, who had long been of the opinion that the work of the department had become too extensive to be under the management of one man.29 Congress took no action on the board's report, but it showed interest in a proposal made by William Buchanan, a Baltimore merchant, to supply the Continental Army by contract instead of by the commissary method.30
In March Congress initiated an inquiry into the conduct of the purchasing commissaries in the Middle Department by appointing a committee of three for that purpose. The committee reported that many of the charges made against the commissaries were true. Extravagance and dissipation of public funds through fraudulent raising of prices to reap higher commissions had occurred, and the conduct of some of the Commissary Department's personnel had been characterized by a lack either of ability or of integrity. The committee recommended that in the future Congress appoint the commissaries and place them in designated districts under proper supervision and regulations. Impressed with these findings, Congress immediately directed the committee to prepare a draft of regulations for putting their ideas into effect.31
In view of the various regulatory measures being proposed, Elbridge Gerry advised Trumbull to come to Philadelphia if departmental affairs permitted. He added that although commissary abuses had been uncovered in the middle states, he had not heard "any person lisp Complaints against the Commissary General." Congress itself had ordered Trumbull to report to Philadelphia as quickly as possible. He arrived on 22 April, reassured Congress on the amount of provisions immediately available, and dismissed Wharton.32
28. (1) Ibid., 7:160-61 (to Trumbull, 18 Feb 77). (2) JCC, 7:70 (29 Jan 77). (3) Burnett, Letters, 2:314-15 (Sherman to Trumbull, 2 Apr 77).
29. (1) JCC, 7:119-20 (14 Feb 77). (2) See, for example, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:25-26 (to Brig Gen Alexander MacDougall, 7 May 77).
30. (1) JCC, 7:134 (20 Feb 77). (2) Burnett, Letters, 2:314-15 (Roger Sherman to Trumbull, 2 Apr 77).
31. JCC, 7:177, 266 (14 Mar and 14 Apr 77).
32. (1) Ibid., 7:279 (18 Apr 77). (2) Burnett, Letters, 2:334-35 (Gerry to Trumbull, 19 Apr 77); 340 (Roger Sherman to gov of Conn., 23 Apr 77).
The committee drafting a regulation for the department requested that Trumbull, on the basis of his experience in office, submit his ideas on the subject. Trumbull, who had applied to Congress for regulations twelve months earlier, presented a draft of his proposals two days later and urged immediate action to quiet the discontent and uneasiness of his assistants. He apparently was pleased with the idea of dividing his office into two separate departments, but he was diametrically opposed to the continuation of the practice of paying a fixed salary to the Commissary General. He had never been satisfied with that arrangement, and he now again proposed that he be paid on a commission basis-that is, ½ percent of all monies passing through his hands. He wrote to Jeremiah Wadsworth that he was determined to have his own terms or nothing, though at that point he did not know whether he would be asked to remain.33
Assuming that he would be consulted from time to time about the preparation of the regulation, Trumbull remained in Philadelphia for the next four weeks. By that time maneuvers in New Jersey were heralding the beginning of the campaign of 1777, and Washington, who had been impatiently awaiting Trumbull's arrival at headquarters, was writing:
It is the peculiar misfortune of this Army to have, generally speaking, the heads of the different departments always absent, when they are most wanted. Two months was labouring as hard as a Man could, to get the Commissary General to this place, and had scarce accomplished it, before the Congress ordered him to Philadelphia; from whence, I have used my utmost endeavours, to bring him back, but am answered, that he is detained by order; in the mean while, the Army may starve.
Washington finally informed Trumbull that the main army would have to disperse for lack of food if he did not come to Morristown and procure sufficient supplies.34
Disgusted with the fact that the committee never again called for his assistance and unable to learn that any progress was being made in the preparation of the regulation, Trumbull returned to camp. There he found his department in such a demoralized and discontented state as a result of the congressional investigation that he contemplated resigning on 15 June. "An Angel from Heaven could not go on long in my Situation," he wrote his friend Elbridge Gerry. It was apparent that his deputies would leave him to a man if satisfactory arrangements were not made, and in the existing uncertanties the deputies "were not worth a farthing each."
Although Trumbull had not yet been informed, on 10 June Congress had
33. Ibid., 2:364n (Trumbull to Wadsworth, 17 May 77); 393-94n (Trumbull to Hancock, 15 Jun 77).
34. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:130-31 (to Greene, 27 May 77); 136 (to Trunibull, 28 May 77).
35. Burnett, Letters, 2:393-94n (drafts of letters to Hancock, Washington, and Gerry that apparently were not sent, 15 Jun 77).
adopted a regulation so minutely detailed-the text fills fifteen pages of its printed Journal-that "if regulations could have furnished supplies, the army storehouses should have been bursting with a superabundance."36 The regulation established separate departments of purchases and issues, each headed by a Commissary General. As in the case of other staff departments, Congress established subordinate offices of these two new departments in each of the military departments. The only exception was the Southern Department; because military need did not dictate otherwise, the two Commissary organizations were established only in the Southern District, that is, Virginia. The regulation provided a relatively simple organization, but the minutiae of detail-prescribing an elaborate record-keeping system and procedures for the branding of government animals, the recovery and tanning of hides, the monetary evaluation of the ration, and the establishment of gardens, to mention only a few areas-were such as to make effective administration of the measure an impossibility.37
Congress set about implementing its new regulation in the midst of the campaign of 1777. For the Department of the Commissary General of Purchases, the regulation authorized congressional appointment of four deputy commissaries general, who in turn were each to appoint as many assistants as necessary. The Commissary General of Purchases was to assign each deputy commissary general to a separate area within which he was to make his purchases, delivering the provisions to the deputy commissary general of issues of that area. Each deputy, in turn, was to assign his purchasers to districts within which they were to operate. Such assignment of districts had the commendable objective of preventing competition among commissaries who otherwise might have purchased in the same places.
Congress completed its arrangements in little more than a week. It resolved first that the Commissary General of Purchases was to maintain his office wherever Congress might meet and that either he or his clerk was to be in constant attendance.38 It then settled the question of compensation for department personnel. In lieu of commissions to purchasing commissaries, the use of which had become thoroughly discredited, Congress substituted fixed pay and rations. This provision was the most disturbing feature of the new system from the viewpoint of the purchasing deputies, though the allowance of 8 dollars and 6 rations per day to the Commissary General of Purchases was a more generous remuneration than heretofore he had received. A deputy commissary general of purchases was to be paid 5 dollars and 4 rations per day, and each of his assistants was to receive 4 dollars a day. This pay was quickly judged to be inadequate for assistant commissaries employed
36. Burnett, The Continental Congress, p. 273.
37. JCC, 8:433-48 (10 Jun 77).
38. Ibid., 8:452 (11 Jun 77).
in buying and collecting livestock. On 2 July Congress therefore amended the pay scale by authorizing the deputy commissaries of purchases to make reasonable allowances to such assistant commissaries for all extraordinary traveling expenses up to 1 1/3 dollars per day.39
On 18 June 1777 Congress elected the officers needed to staff the purchasing department. It continued Joseph Trumbull in office with the new title of Commissary General of Purchases and appointed four deputies to assist him-William Aylett, William Buchanan, Jacob Cuyler, and Jeremiah Wadsworth.40 They were to serve respectively in the Southern District and in the Middle, Northern, and Eastern Departments. Aylett thereby was continued in the purchasing position he had been filling in Virginia since 1776. He, Cuyler, and Buchanan accepted their appointments, but Wadsworth declined to serve.41
Regarding the Department of the Commissary General of Issues, the regulation initially called for congressional appointment of only three deputies. As in the purchasing department, these deputy commissaries general were to appoint necessary assistants, and the Commissary General of Issues was to assign to each deputy a separate area. Since 1775 issuing commissaries had worked on a salary basis. The regulation of 1777 therefore introduced no change, but the low pay scale established for the issuing commissaries drew considerable criticism. Consequently, in July Congress amended the regulation, increasing pay in the department.42
On 18 June 1777 Congress designated Charles Stewart as Commissary General of Issues and appointed as his deputies William Green Mumford, Matthew Irwin, who had been serving as a deputy with the main army in the field, and Elisha Avery, who had been Trumbull's deputy in the Northern Department.43 Of the three, however, only Mumford accepted appointment, as deputy in the Southern District. By the end of September 1777 he had the only functioning organization, having appointed assistant commissaries of issues at Yorktown, Portsmouth, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria, Virginia.44
39. Ibid., 8:523-24 (2 Jul 77).
40. Cuyler's appointment was not secured without a recurrence of the earlier animosity between New England and New York delegates. See Burnett, Letters, 2:382 (James Duane to Robert Livingston, 19 Jun 77); 383 (same to Schuyler, 19 Jun 77).
41. JCC, 8:477, 617 (18 Jun and 6 Aug 77).
42. Ibid., 8:469-70, 523-24 (16 Jun and 2 Jul 77). The original and amended pay scales per month were as follows:
Pay in Dollars As Amended Rations Commissary General of Issues 150 same 6 Deputies 75 100 4 Assistant commissaries 40 60 2 Clerks 35 50 2
43. Ibid., 8:427, 491 (18 and 23 Jun 77).
44. RG 11, CC Papers, item 155, 1:425 (return); 469 (return, 13 - 20 Sep 77).
Congress filled the vacancy in the Northern Department by electing James Blicker to the post on 6 August. Congress, much troubled by its inability to find men willing to accept appointment under the new regulation, authorized the commanding officer of the Northern Department to fill the post if Blicker declined the appointment. At the same time, made aware by Commissary General Stewart of the need for a fourth deputy commissary general of issues in the Eastern Department, it appointed Samuel Gray to that post.45
In the summer of 1777, as the British and main Continental armies engaged in maneuvers in New Jersey, the essential issuing organization in the Middle Department was still incomplete. Stewart was harassed by the resignation of four successive deputy commissaries of issues for that department between 18 June and 15 September 1777.46 By that time, with the British threatening Philadelphia, Commissary General Stewart was so fully occupied with removing stores from that city and the posts along the Delaware that he could give no attention to the organization of his department or to objections made by his deputies against the new regulation.47
When Congress had made its first appointments to the two departments under the new regulation, it had requested Trumbull and his incumbent deputies to continue supplying the Continental Army as they had been doing until the new appointees were prepared to assume their duties. Trumbull himself apparently was not officially notified of his appointment until 5 July. As soon as the resolutions had been passed, however, Eliphalet Dyer had written to him. Aware that Trumbull had said he would not serve if he was not paid a commission, Dyer urged him to accept the new appointrnent on patriotic grounds.48 But if Trumbull was willing to reconsider, his subordinates were not. A dismaying succession of resignations and new appointments followed in both departments in the weeks after the adoption of the regulation. Washington informed Congress that he feared his anny would be greatly distressed by a lack of issuing commissaries. Trumbull attempted to keep his department functioning, but he had so few assistants
45. (1) Ibid., item 78, 1:103 (Avery to Pres of Cong, 26 Jul 77). (2)KC, 8.617,621 (6 and 7 Aug 77). James Gray became deputy in the Northern Department on 19 October 1778; when he resigned, he was succeeded by James Gamble on 16 November 1780. See 12:1023; 18:1059-60.
46. When Matthew Irwin refused to serve, Congress appointed Robert Hoops, who soon found the strict limitations of the regulation so hampering that he resigned on 6 August. Congress then appointed Archibald Stewart, who declined the appointment three days later. On 14 August Robert White accepted the appointment, only to resign a month later. Eventually, Thomas Jones became deputy for the Middle Department. Ibid., 8:517, 617, 629-30, 744 (1 Jul, 6 Aug, I I Aug, and 15 Sep 77).
47. Correspondence of Charles Stewart, Commissary General of Issues, 1777-1782, fols. 224, 228 (to Gray, 7 Oct 77), Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Hereafter cited as Stewart Correspondence.
48, Burnett, Letters, 2:392, 407-08 (Dyer to Trumbull, - Jun and 8 Jul 77).
that he had, on occasion, to stand in person at the scales to check the weight of provisions.49
On 9 July Trumbull, seconded by Stewart, proposed that a committee be sent from Congress to observe firsthand the necessity for amending the regulation. The "difficulties, arising from the Strictness of Congress' new Regulations," made it impossible for the deputies to act. In forwarding the proposal, Washington warned that his army would have to disband if Congress did not immediately come to the aid of Trumbull. He added that if it became necessary to move his troops with dispatch, there would be more to dread from the confusion in the Commissary Department than from the enemy. Congress thereupon appointed a committee, but Eliphalet Dyer advised Trumbull that many members were so "fond of their New plan" that it would be difficult to "make them attend to the Objections against it." Trumbull soon learned that the committee was not inclined to grant him the control of his deputies that he deemed essential or to pay him on a commission basis. Even before its report was presented to Congress, Trumbull, on 19 July, submitted his resignation.50 Two weeks later he notified Congress that he would not consider himself obliged to perform the duties of his office beyond 20 August 1777.
Appointment of William Buchanan
On 5 August 1777 Congress chose William Buchanan, who had been designated deputy for the Middle Department under the new regulation, as Trumbull's successor." Buchanan was not experienced in commissary supply. Moreover, he had the misfortune to assume the duties of his office in a time of crisis with only a small and incomplete staff of officers, some of whom were inexperienced and others incompetent. In the midst of the changes that were being introduced, he was called upon to subsist an army that for weeks had been engaged in one of the most active campaigns of the war. Uncertain whether Maj. Gen. Sir William Howe's forces would be sent to Albany to assist Maj. Gen. Sir John Burgoyne or dispatched against Philadelphia, Washington marched and countermarched his troops between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers. Not until 22 August was he certain that Philadelphia was the British objective. He then shifted his army southward through New Jersey to protect that city from the British, who a few days later were landing men and supplies at Head of Elk.
Buchanan's deputy in the Middle Department was Ephraim Blaine, a
49. (1) Ibid., 2:394 (James Lovell to Trumbull, 30 Jun 77). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:330 (to Pres of Cong, 2 Jul 77).
50. (1) Washington Papers, 50:117 (Trumbull to Washington, 9 Jul 77); 51:96 (same to same, 19 Jul 77). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:373 - 74 (to Pres of Cong, 9 Jul 77). (3) JCC, 8:546 (11 Jul 77). (4) Burnett, Letters, 2:414 (Dyer to Trumbull, 15 Jul 77).
51. JCC, 8:598, 607 (2 and 5 Aug 77).
merchant of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, who had been designated to fill the vacancy that occurred when Buchanan was promoted to head the purchasing department.52 Under the new arrangement Buchanan was required to attend Congress; consequently, Blaine directed Commissary support of Washington's army as it moved to meet the British threat to Philadelphia. Blaine hoped to promote efficiency by close personal supervision of his subordinates. To keep his organization functioning smoothly while he made the rounds of the Middle Department, Blaine promptly called to his aid two experienced Philadelphia merchants, John Chaloner and James White. To the latter, who was required to reside near Congress, he assigned responsibility for obtaining funds and making them available on application by the assistant deputies in the department. To Chaloner he assigned the duty of permanent residence at Washington's headquarters, where he could be constantly available and responsive to the needs of the Commander in Chief whenever Blaine himself was absent.53 However, it soon developed that Chaloner was not equal to the sudden demands created by changing conditions in the 1777 campaign.
Blaine worked diligently to provision the main army, but he found his efforts to furnish an adequate meat supply much hampered by the delay in completing the purchasing organization in the Eastern Department. Commissary General Buchanan was not aggressive in getting his department organized and apparently was unaware of the extent to which the deterioration of Commissary affairs in the Eastern Department had affected supply. Two months had elapsed after the passage of the regulation of 1777 before Congress, on 9 August, appointed Peter Colt as deputy commissary general of purchases in the Eastern Department in place of Jeremiah Wadsworth, who had refused to serve.54 Colt received his commission on 24 August, but at first he could not decide on the propriety of accepting appointment. Weeks went by while he registered his objections to operating under the new regulation. He wrote Buchanan on the difficulties to be encountered, particularly the impossibility of getting cattle purchasers under the terms offered. After receiving urgent demands for beef from Blaine, Colt met with Henry Champion, who had been the principal supplier of cattle under Trumbull. Champion and his assistants refused to continue serving if the
52. (1) [bid., 8:617 (6 Aug 77). (2) Blaine first participated in commissary affairs on the western frontier. The Continental Congress appointed him a commissary in October 1776 to supply the battalion commanded by Col. Eneas Mackay. Some five months later Congress appointed him a commissary for provisioning the troops in Cumberland County, Pa., and whatever troops marched through the county. He was also to provide rations for the artificers and troops to be employed at the magazine and ordnance laboratory to be erected at Carlisle. From the fall of 1776 until the end of the war, Blaine was engaged in one capacity or another in provisioning troops. Ibid., 6:885 (17 Oct 76); 7:213 (1 Apr 77).
53. Papers of Ephraim Blaine, 1:197 (Blaine to Dunham, 20 Aug 77), Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Hereafter cited as Blaine Papers.
54. JCC, 8:627 (9 Aug 77).
regulation remained unaltered. When he received no reply to several letters he sent to Buchanan during September, Colt wrote to the President of the Continental Congress, placing the problem before him.55
In October Congress finally changed some of the more restrictive features of the regulation affecting the purchasers of cattle. In lieu of the requirement to brand and number all cattle on the horns, Congress yielded to the livestock purchasers' objections and amended the regulation to permit them to adopt such other modes for marking as they judged expedient, provided they notified Congress of the method adopted. Congress also allowed more time-up to one month-for the purchasers of livestock to make returns. Answering critics of the regulation, Congress asserted that it had never intended to charge the cost of cattle that died on the road or that strayed from keepers at camp to the purchasers of livestock if proper care had been taken to prevent such losses.56
While cattle purchases in the Eastern Department were suspended from August to November pending amendment of the regulation, the forwarding of supplies on hand was completely frustrated. Samuel Gray, the deputy commissary general of issues in that department, failed to understand that he was to accept the transfer of subsistence stores from Trumbull even though Stewart had so instructed him at the time he sent Gray his commission. When it was insinuated by some members of Congress that the delay in transfer was attributable to Trumbull, Jeremiah Wadsworth, who had served as the latter's deputy, indignantly refuted the charge. If he had not himself forwarded supplies, Wadsworth wrote, "they would yet have been in the Magazines where they were deposited," waiting for application by Gray.57
Still uncertain whether Colt had accepted his appointment or, for that matter, whether Samuel Gray was operating in his capacity as deputy commissary general of issues for the Eastern Department, Congress on 4 October 1777 vested authority in Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam, commanding officer at Peekskill, to appoint suitable persons if either of these deputies declined their posts. Approximately a month later, with the situation still not clarified, Congress granted the same authority to the governor of Connecticut. The latter was to make such appointments only if General Putnam had not acted and if Colt and Gray had still not accepted the congressional appointments. "It will be a Jumble when all is done," Eliphalet Dyer wrote Trumbull early in November. Colt, however, finally accepted his appointment.58
55. RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 5:411-16 (4 Oct 77).
56. JCC, 9:768-69 (4 Oct 77).
57. (1) Stewart Correspondence (to Gray, 8 Jul 77, but should be 8 Aug 77). (2) Burnett, Letters, 2:543n (Wadsworth to William Williams, 26 Nov 77).
58. (1) JCC, 9:767-68, 858 (4 Oct and 3 Nov 77). (2) Bumett, Letters, 2:544 (Dyer to Trumbull, 4 Nov 77).
Admittedly, the Commissary Department under the regulation of 1777 was not achieving the success that had been expected. In the early fall advocates of the new system had felt that sufficient time had not elapsed to permit a demonstration of its merits. By November, however, adversaries of the new organization were pronouncing it a failure.59 Washington had repeatedly complained of the shortcomings of the Commissary Department during the campaign of 1777, but it was not until December that he bluntly and boldly condemned the inefficiency of both the Commissary and Quartermaster's Departments.
I have been tender heretofore of giving any opinions, or lodging complaints, as the change in the [Commissary Department] took place contrary to my judgement, and the consequences thereof were predicted; yet, finding that the inactivity of the Army . . . is charged to my Acct., . . . I can declare that, no Man, in my opinion, ever had his measures more impeded than I have, by every department of the Army. Since the Month of July, we have had no assistance from the Quarter Master Geni. and to want of assistance from this department, the Commissary Genl. charges great part of his deficiency."60
His accusation against Quartermaster General Mifflin was pointed, and he certainly used strong language against what had once been a pet measure of Congress. When Washington wrote, the main army had arrived at Valley Forge to begin preparations for the winter encampment. The turmoil in the Commissary Department contributed greatly to the privations suffered by the troops in the winter of 1777-78.
Continuation of the Issuing Department
Congress was ready to admit that experience had proved that the commissariat system under the regulation of 1777 could not supply the Continental Army with provisions. As Elbridge Gerry pointed out early in February 1778, "its Advocates have finally given it up, after distressing the Army, Congress, and the Continent with it for six or eight months. -61 However willing Congress was to initiate changes in the purchasing department-and that department was to undergo a number of reorganizations before the commissariat system was abandoned in favor of supply by contract-it saw no need to alter the Department of the Commissary General of Issues, which continued to operate under Stewart until 1781 largely unchanged.
Washington had approved of the separation of purchasing and issuing functions as a means of introducing greater control in Commissary matters. In the first year of the war lax discipline had permitted abuses to be
59. Ibid., 2:563-64 (Richard Henry Lee to Washington, 20 Nov 77).
60. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10: 194 (to Pres of Cong, 23 Dec 77).
61. Bumett, Letters, 3:76 (to Samuel Adams, 7 Feb 78).
practiced in the issue of provisions. At Cambridge individuals designated to draw rations from the issuing stores for the soldiers of a given unit often drew rations for a greater number of men than were enrolled in the unit. They then sold the surplus food for their private gain. Many such cases were uncovered; detection resulted in dismissal .62 In addition, it was not uncommon for troops who had drawn rations at one post to be ordered to another. Despite the fact that the period for which they had been victualed had not expired when they arrived at the new post, they nevertheless again drew rations as though entitled to them.
In the spring of 1777 Washington had directed Commissary General Trumbull to have an assistant commissary with each brigade so that provisions could be issued easily and regularly. In the turmoil of the period this order was apparently not carried out, for when Deputy Commissary General Blaine visited Washington's army in the summer of 1777 to determine the daily ration requirements, he found a commissary and three clerks attached instead to each division. When the issuing department was established, Washington's order was executed; an assistant commissary of issues was appointed to each brigade of the main Continental army by the Commissary General of Issues or his deputy in the Middle Department .63
Stewart's department also included assistant commissaries of issue assigned to supervise provision magazines. All provisions that had been accumulated and deposited in magazines by Trumbull and his deputies were turned over to the Commissary General of Issues and his deputies. Stewart reported that provisions in the Middle Department had been received at twenty-three different posts. By the end of January 1778 Thomas Jones, who had become deputy commissary general of issues in the Middle Department, reported 13 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.64
Controlling the issue of rations became no easier when handled by the Commissary General of Issues than it had been under Trumbull. In the spring of 1779 Washington found that the daily issue of provisions exceeded considerably the total number of troops in camp. He wanted a return showing on what days, in what manner, and by whose order provisions were drawn. As Commissary General Stewart pointed out, the regulation of 1777
62. (1) See, for example, Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 3:375. (2) William Coit, "Orderly Book of Capt. William Coit's Company," Connecticut Historical Society Collections 7 (1899): 33, 79.
63. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:142-43 (GO, 30 May 77). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Buchanan, 16 Aug 77). (3) RG 11, CC Papers, item 155, 1:457 (return, Jones to committee, 30 Jan 78).
64. Ibid. Scalemen were paid 30 dollars a month; clerks, 35 dollars a month; coopers, a dollar a day; and bakers, 6 pounds to 7 pounds and 10 shillings a month.
indicated whose orders the issuing commissaries could accept as vouchers, yet necessity in many instances compelled them to issue on the return of persons not specifically mentioned, such as wagonmasters, foragemasters, barrackmasters, superintendents of artificers, boatmen, and various other personnel from the Hospital Department and the departments of the Quartermaster General, Commissary General of Military Stores, Commissary General of Musters, and Geographer.65 This problem apparently was never satisfactorily solved during the Revolution.
Under the provisions of the regulation of 1777, issuing commissaries by their appointment were attached to particular military departments. Changes in circumstances and in the position of the main army, however, made this arrangement inconvenient. In consequence, in March 1779 Congress ordered that in the future all issuing commissaries were to attend and perform their duties at such places and with such detachments of the Continental Army as the Commander in Chief or the Commissary General of Issues directed.66
In that year Congress. also took cognizance of the distressed condition of the issuing commissaries. As prices rose, the pay that had been provided in 1777 for personnel in the issuing department became so inadequate that many resigned and others felt they would be compelled to do so if no action was taken for their relief. On the basis of a report by the Board of War, the Continental Congress increased the pay of personnel in the issuing department. At the same time, it granted a forage allowance to the deputies and the brigade commissaries and travel allowances to the other assistant commissaries. Commissaries of issues who had served in the department for one year before the date of this resolution were entitled to draw annually from the Clothier General one suit of clothes for themselves and one for each of their clerks, to be paid for at the same rate charged to officers in the line.67
Some of the issuing posts grew to considerable size, particularly those that handled large amounts of provisions. Thus the post at Philadelphia included among its personnel a deputy commissary general of issues and his five clerks, an assistant commissary of issues and his three clerks, and a magazine keeper, who employed a clerk and 2 assistants, 10 laborers, and 7 coopers. When retrenchment became the watchword in 1780, the first business undertaken by the congressional Committee at Headquarters,
65. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 14: 422-23 (to Stewart, 21 Apr 79). (2) Washington Papers, 105:13 (Stewart to Washington, 27 Apr 79).
66. JCC, 13:321-22 (16 Mar 79).
67. Ibid., 14:571-73 (11 May 79). The pay of deputies was increased to 200 dollars a month; assistant commissaries of issue at magazines, posts, and brigades of the Continental Army were allowed 90 dollars a month; and the salary of the clerks of the Commissary General of Issues and of his deputies was raised to 80 dollars a month. Clerks employed by assistant commissaries were allowed 50 dollars a month, but no clerk was to be employed by a commissary if the daily ration issue did not equal 400 rations.
appointed in April, was the reduction of personnel at the Philadelphia post. Before the committee left Philadelphia, it ordered the Commissary General of Issues or his deputy to abolish the position of magazine keeper by 1 May and to discharge eighteen others, including his clerk, assistants, laborers, and coopers.68
When Superintendent of Finance Robert Morris began contracting for supplies in 1781, all personnel employed by the issuing department at Philadelphia were dismissed except the deputy commissary general of issues and employees who issued supplies at posts not provided for by contracts.69 Commissary General Stewart served through the Yorktown campaign. His post and department were then allowed to expire without formal action by Congress.
Regulation of 1778
When the Continental Congress finally concluded that the purchasing system under the regulation of 1777 could not supply the Continental Anny with provisions, it appointed a committee in January 1778 to revise the system. Congress was ready to remove Buchanan and rescind the 1777 regulation governing the purchasing department. Buchanan acted first, however, resigning on 20 March 1778.70 Many preferred the reappointment of Joseph Trumbull, but when that was not possible, the committee endorsed Jeremiah Wadsworth for the office. Congress invited him to attend its sessions so that he might be consulted on proposed amendments to the regulation. That invitation apparently went astray, for a month after it had been issued, Eliphalet Dyer was urging him to make his appearance promptly. During Wadsworth's absence Congress had drafted a regulatory plan, but Dyer assured him that such alterations as he thought necessary would readily be accepted.71 By 30 March Wadsworth was at York, Pennsylvania, where Congress was meeting, and the proposed regulatory plan was submitted to him for consideration.
As adopted on 14 April 1778, the plan incorporated most of the suggestions which Congress had rejected when Trumbull had made them in the summer of 1777. Congress vested full authority in the Commissary General of Purchases to appoint and remove any officer in his department and to assign to the assistant purchasing commissaries specific districts to which
68. (1) RG 11, CC Papers, item 39, 3:365-66 (return, Gustavus Risberg to committee, 18 Apr 80). (2) Burnett, Letters, 5:120-21 (Committee at Hq to Commissary General of Issues, 19 Apr 80).
69. Papers of Robert Morris, Diary, 1:61 (14 Sep 81).
70. (1) JCC, 10:5 1 (14 Jan 78). (2) RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 2:411 (Buchanan to Pres of Cong, 20 Mar 78).
71. (1) JCC, 10: 141 (9 Feb 78). (2) Burnett, Letters, 3:78 - 79 (Dyer to Trumbull, 9 Feb 78); 121 (same to Wadsworth, 10 Mar 78).
they were restricted in making their purchases. To make the posts attractive to competent men, Congress allowed a commission of 2 percent to assistant purchasing commissaries on all money they disbursed. It granted a ½ percent commission to the Commissary General of Purchases on all sums paid by him to his deputies for public service. Congress allowed the same percentage of commission on the money the deputies paid to their respective assistant purchasing commissaries. Though the Commissary General was no longer obliged to reside at the place where Congress was meeting, he was to maintain an office there and make periodic reports to that body.72
Wadsworth was elected to the office on 9 April 1778.73 With some satisfaction, James Lovell, delegate from Massachusetts, informed Samuel Adams: "We have got Col. Wadsworth at the Head of the commissariate unfettered strictly so. Had the same steps as now been taken with Trumbull a year ago amazing Sums would have been saved. . . . Let us look forward with hope."74 Wadsworth, who was 35 at the time of his appointment, had considerable prewar experience in mercantile affairs and since 1775 had been active in commissary matters, first in Connecticut and then as a deputy to Commissary General Trumbull. He had handled his assignments so satisfactorily that his reputation was well known to Congress. As a consequence, it was said that he could have set his own terms at the time of his appointment as Commissary General of Purchases.
Under the 1778 regulation Wadsworth had a greater degree of control over his department than had been granted to Buchanan. Except for some adjustments in district boundaries, however, there were practically no changes in organization or personnel. William Aylett remained deputy commissary general of purchases in the Southern District, as Ephraim Blaine did in the Middle Department. Jacob Cuyler continued to direct commissary purchases in the Northern Department, and Henry Champion, who supervised cattle purchases in New England and now reported directly to Wadsworth, and Peter Colt were retained in the Eastern Department. Purchasing operations under Wadsworth provided ample rations, and certainly the winter of 177879 brought none of the extremes of hardship that had been suffered by the troops at Valley Forge. Nonetheless, difficulties were multiplying in the late fall of 1778, and criticism, which had subsided when Wadsworth was appointed, began to grow.
When Wadsworth had conferred with a committee of Congress at the time of his appointment, he had been led to believe that measures would be taken that would permit him to restore the credit of the purchasing department and that would allow him to furnish ample supplies "on tollerable terms." A few months later, however, he reported that his purchasers were unable to
72. JCC, 10:344-48 (14 Apr 78).
73. Ibid., 10:327-28.
74. Bumett, Letters, 3:175 (19 Apr 78).
buy on credit at reasonable rates. Yet purchasing on credit was a necessity since the department was experiencing so much difficulty in obtaining funds from the Treasury. Five months after his appointment, fearing that under these circumstances he would not be able to support the troops and would only bring ruin on himself, he asked Congress to permit him to relinquish his office at the end of 1778. Congress was unwilling to release him and requested that he continue at his post, assuring him again it would take every proper measure to facilitate the execution of his duties.75
Congress had been disinclined to interfere further in affairs of the Commissary Department after April 1778. Before the year ended, however, it decided that more vigorous measures were needed for regulating the Department of the Commissary General of Purchases as well as the Quartermaster's Department. To give more constant supervisory attention to them, it appointed a committee of three, whose functions were turned over to the Board of War a year later.76
There was no dearth of reforming zeal in 1779. As expenditures increased and reports of abuses in the two departments persisted, three other committees were appointed during the year to promote reform in one phase or another of the activities of the supply departments. The spiraling costs of the war and the rapid depreciation of the country's currency were at the core of all the troubles experienced by the departments. Both developments, however, were largely attributed to the practices of quartermasters and commissaries. On the floor of Congress Elbridge Gerry charged that purchasing officers had been guilty of barefaced frauds-that they had deliberately induced sellers to demand high prices in order to profit through larger commissions.77 Expenditures of the supply departments mounted alarmingly during 1779. Larger and more frequent advances were made to Wadsworth, but they were insufficient to enable him to pay off old debts, In fact, new indebtedness accumulated, and the credit of purchasing agents declined to the vanishing point.
Wadsworth, disturbed by the "unmerited Abuse and slander indiscriminately heaped on" his department by every "petty scribbler," offered his resignation again early in June 1779.78 He had found it impossible to fill vacancies, and a report of the Treasury Board and resolutions of Congress had "abated if not destroyed the influence of the purchasing Commissaries." He reported that Maryland had even taken the procurement of subsistence
75. (1) RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 23:551-53, 573 (Wadsworth to Pres Henry Laurens, I Sep and 20 Oct 78). (2) JCC, 12:1024-1025 (20 Oct 78).
76. (1) Ibid., 12:1114-15 (10 Nov 78); 15:1312 (25 Nov 79). (2) For examples of matters referred to the committee by Congress, see ibid., 13:103, 150; 14:607, 990; 15:1130. (3) Illustrative of the committee's initial activities is a series of letters to the states on 11 November 1778. See Burnett, Letters, 3:489-92.
77. Ibid., 4:215 (Laurens, Notes of Proceedings, 17 May 79).
78. RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 24:410 (to Pres of Cong, 5 Jun 79).
into its own hands. The state had employed some of Wadsworth's purchasers at a 5 percent commission, and the purchase of flour in the state was entirely out of his control. Congress refused to accept his resignation and unanimously resolved that it had full confidence in his integrity, though it added that it had reason to believe that abuses had been committed by subordinates and that it intended to take measures to distinguish between those who had been faithful and "those who had been otherwise."79 Congress warned that at the opening of a campaign it would be inexpedient and dangerous for Wadsworth and his principal officers to resign and admonished them not to embarrass the service or expose themselves to their country's resentment by doing so. Samuel Huntington, a delegate from Connecticut, expressed somewhat similar sentiments and added that some new regulations were needed for the two supply departments.80
Wadsworth agreed to continue in office but reminded Congress that without its support his exertions, no matter how great, would be insufficient to furnish the supplies needed during the campaign. That Wadsworth had yielded only with great reluctance to the wishes of Congress was shown early in August when he requested that it appoint his successor. In October, with the end of the 1779 campaign approaching, he renewed this request, indicating that he would remain on duty until the end of the year and no longer. In this
79. For a similar vote of confidence in Greene and action taken by Congress for controlling subordinates in his department, see above, Chapter 2.
80. (1) JCC, 14:695 (7 Jun 79). (2) Burnett, Letters, 4:294-95 (Huntington to Wadsworth, 3 Jul 79).
interim, he added, it would be impossible for him to execute the required duties without such grants of money as would enable his purchasers to pay for what they bought; their credit would no longer feed the troops.81
Congress now accepted Wadsworth's resignation. Preoccupied with the country's finances, it took no immediate action to appoint a successor. Washington, who had nothing but praise for the way in which Wadsworth had fed the troops, soon called for prompt action to fill the office if Wadsworth would not continue serving. "The business of other departments may admit of some procrastinations and delays," he wrote Congress, but this situation could not be tolerated in the Commissary Department.82
On 2 December Congress appointed Ephraim Blaine as Commissary General of Purchases. It called upon Wadsworth and his deputies to continue supplying the Continental Army until Blaine accepted the post and was ready to assume its duties. When Blaine had not entered upon those duties by 31 December, Wadsworth informed Congress that he could not comply with its resolution of 4 December and that he was adhering to his earlier resolve to quit his office at the close of the year.83 It was 12 January 1780 before Blaine accepted his appointment. He informed Washington that he would set out for headquarters as soon as he received instructions and money from Congress.84
Regulation of 1780
Reorganization of the Department of the Commissary General of Purchases had been explored for some months. In the summer of 1779 a committee had proposed organizational changes, but consideration of the problem had been deferred and passed along from one committee to another. By November nothing had been accomplished.85 The one aspect of the department's operations that elicited the most concern and called forth the most urgent demands for reform by Congress was its payment of commissions. The size of the commissions stirred envy, and although some recognized that the Commissions, because of inflation, might be no more than those paid in 1775, others thought them considerable "compared with what some other persons who have been engaged in the public Service have got or rather lost." Throughout December Congress reviewed this problem, and, not unexpectedly, it decided to reestablish a fixed salary for the office of the Commissary
81. RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 24:49 (to Pres Jay, 12 Jun 79); 97- 100 (to Pres Huntington, 10 Oct 79).
82. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:122-25 (to Pres Huntington, 24 Nov 79).
83. (I)KC, 15:1342-43, 1349 (4 Dec 79). (2) RG 11, CC Papers, item 78,24:149-50 (to Pres of Cong, 31 Dec 79); 161-62 (Wads%~orth to Washington, 3 Jan 80).
84. (1) Ibid., item 165, 1:315 - 17 (Blaine to Pres of Cong, 12 Jan 80). (2) Washington Papers, 125:101 (Blaine to Washington, 16 Jan 80).
85. (1) JCC, 15:872-80 (23 Jul 79). (2) Burnett, Letters, 4:522 (Schuyler to Washington, 18 Nov 79).
General of Purchases. On I January 1780 it set the salary at 40,000 dollars a year and allowed six rations a day and forage for four horses.86
Adoption of the system of specific supplies made necessary some new arrangement of the purchasing department. Since the states were to direct procurement under that system, the need for purchasing commissaries was eliminated. However, Congress authorized the Commissary General of Purchases on I January to appoint an assistant commissary in any state that failed to furnish the necessary supplies. Despite previous criticism of commissions, Congress allowed such commissaries 2 percent on the money they expended, but to control them, it ordered that the prices paid were to be no more than twenty times those paid for similar articles in 1774. To ascertain the latter, Congress directed each state to furnish the Treasury Board with a list of the commodities commonly sold within the state and the prices that were current in 1774.87
At the request of Blaine, Congress provided for an assistant commissary to reside at headquarters, where he would always be available to receive instructions from the Commander in Chief and could act upon them in the absence of the Commissary General of Purchases. It set the latter's salary at 10,000 dollars and allowed him two rations a day and forage for one horse. Blaine thought he ought to have an agent in each state to superintend the state purchasers and "push them to execute their duty," for otherwise, he claimed, supplies would not be obtained with any regularity. He also raised the question of whether he was to regulate the pay of coopers, bakers, superintendents of cattle, drovers, and butchers.88 Congress took no immediate action on these questions.
Early in February 1780 Blaine set out on a tour of the eastern states to supervise the initiation of the system of specific supplies, to impress upon the states the necessity of filling the quotas set by Congress, and to direct the new state-appointed purchasers to maintain a flow of supplies to the troops. He promptly met with disappointment. He found Governor Trumbull and the Connecticut Assembly disinclined to appoint or even recommend the appointment of a deputy to superintend purchases in that state. He encountered similar reluctance in other states, and consequently he, appointed a number of deputies himself, allowing them the 2 percent commission authorized by Congress on their expenditures. He appointed Henry Champion in Conn&cticut, designated Charles Miller in Massachusetts and Asa Waterman in Rhode Island, and continued Jacob Cuyler as deputy in New York. New Jersey had selected Azariah Dunham as its deputy, and Maryland,
86. (1) Ibid., 4:476 (Jesse Root to Wadsworth, 6 Oct 79); 294-95 (Huntington to Wadsworth, 3 Jul 79); 535-36 (William Ellery to gov of R.I., 14 Dec 79). (2) JCC, 15:1343, 1349, 1421, 1423 (2, 4, 29, and 30 Dec 79); 16:5 (1 Jan 80).
87. Ibid., 16:5-7 (1 Jan 80).
88. (1) Ibid., 16:20-21 (7 Jan 80). (2) RG 11, CC Papers, item 165, fol, 311 (Blaine to Pres of Cong, 5 Jan 80).
Pennsylvania, and Delaware were in the process of making their arrangements. On the other hand, Robert Forsyth, who had succeeded Aylett as deputy commissary general in the Southern District, reported that his assistants had resigned because the inducements offered by Congress were insufficient. Forsyth agreed to continue in service only until a new appointee,could take over.89
This beginning was not auspicious. Blaine, however, was optimistic that he would be able to keep up a temporary supply until the new system began to work if Congress furnished him with money. Quartermaster General Greene was doubtful. "Blaine," he wrote Wadsworth, "is as unequal to the business as he is fond of it."90 Money could not be obtained from the Treasury Board, credit vanished, and Washington's army was reduced to a hand-to-mouth existence.
In view of the changes introduced in procurement by the adoption of the system of specific supplies, Congress once more gave attention to the reorganization of the Commissary Department as 1780 drew to a close. During the months since his appointment, Blaine had been hampered in administering his department by the lack of instructions from Congress. He had appointed agents to superintend Commissary business in the states, and he was employing coopers to make barrels, drovers to deliver cattle, and butchers to slaughter the cattle and salt the meat. Yet "no regular System is adopted for my government," he wrote Congress, "or any rule laid down to direct me how or in what manner to settle with those persons who may occasionally be employ'd in the department."91 He repeated his plea for guidance again and again.
In April 1780 Congress had appointed and.sent to Washington's headquarters a committee of three, instructed primarily to reform abuses in the supply departments. During the summer of 1780 this committee drafted a new regulatory plan for the Department of the Commissary General of Purchases, but it was not until 30 November that the Board of War submitted a report to Congress on the department.92 Only one change was made in its organization. With an army operating in the southern states, it was necessary to assign to it a deputy commissary of purchases. The act authorized the Commissary General of Purchases to appoint this deputy, who was responsible for performing the same duties for the Southern Army as the Commissary General of Purchases did for the main Continental army. Both of these officers
89. (1) Ibid., item 165, fols. 315-17 (Blaine to Pres of Cong, 12 Jan 80). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Cuyler, I Feb 80; to, Azariah Dunham, 6 Feb 80; to Gov Trumbull, 14 Feb 80; to Pres of Cong, 29 Mar 80).
90. (1) Washington Papers, 129:2 (Blaineto Washington, 25 Feb 80). (2) Freeman, George Washington, 5:152n.
91. Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Pres of Cong, 15 Sep, 17 Oct, and 20 Nov 80).
92. (1) Burnett, Letters, 5:195 (Committee at Hq to Blaine, 5 Jun 80); 222 (Schuyler to Pres of Cong, 17 Jun 90). (2) JCC, 18:1109-11 (30 Nov 80).
appointed one assistant commissary, one superintendent of livestock, two clerks, and as many butchers, coopers, drovers, and laborers as were necessary for conducting the business of the purchasing department.
The Commissary General purchased provisions under the direction of Congress, the Commander in Chief, or the Board of War. Congress authorized him to call upon the state agents for such supplies as the state legislatures made provision for; he was to stay informed of the agents' prospects for furnishing supplies. Under orders of the Commander in Chief, he directed the storing of supplies at deposit places, maintaining monthly returns of provisions received, quantities delivered to the issuing commissaries, and provisions remaining on hand. He submitted these returns as well as a monthly record of the personnel he employed to the Commander in Chief and to the Board of War. The Commissary General had authority to call on the Quartermaster General and his deputies for transportation to forward supplies to the troops. Congress continued Ephraim Blaine as Commissary General of Purchases. Early in December he appointed Robert Forsyth as deputy commissary of purchases for the Southern Army.93
In the reorganization act of November 1780 Congress finally satisfied Blaine's repeated requests in the past for guidance by fixing the salaries of personnel in his department. The salaries for clerks and assistants, however, were set so low that Blaine was soon complaining that he had been left without a single person to assist him.94 Congress established no wage rates for personnel hired as occasion demanded, such as butchers, coopers, drovers, and laborers; instead, it authorized the Commissary General of Purchases to fix their pay, subject to the control of the Board of War.
No doubt to his dismay, Blaine found his own salary sharply reduced. The former duties of the Commissary General in the procurement, storage, and forwarding of subsistence had been much altered and curtailed with the adoption of the system of specific supplies.95 Taking cognizance of that fact,
93. (1) General Greene welcomed the appointment of Forsyth and on 31 March 1781 urged that he immediately join the Southern Army to take charge of his "deranged" department. it was June before he joined Greene. He served as deputy commissary of purchases with the Southern Army until Robert Morris authorized contract arrangements for provisioning that army. Judging that there would be no need for a deputy or assistants after I January 1783, Forsyth submitted his resignation to Greene on 12 December 1782. Greene Papers, vol. 25 (to Forsyth, 31 Mar 81); vol. 72 (Forsyth to Greene, 12 Dec 82).
94. RG 11, CC Papers, item 165, fols. 341-44 (Blaine to Pres of Cong, 25 Feb 81). Salaries were set as follows:
Pay Per Month
(No. of Horses)
Deputy commissary 125 2 2 Assistant commissary 75 2 1 Supt. of livestock 50 1 1 Clerks 40 1 0
95. The responsibilities of the Department of the Commissary General of Purchases had been so much reduced and the burden of them placed to such an extent upon the Quartermaster's Department that Quartermaster General Pickering, in the interests of economy, soon advanced
Congress reduced Blaine's salary from 40,000 dollars, granted him in January 1780, to 177 dollars a month or 2,124 dollars a year. It allowed him three rations a day for himself and servants, and forage for two horses. All salaries were payable in bills emitted under the resolution of 18 March 1780.
The supply of food continued to be as precarious, and the response of the states to requisitions as dilatory, as in the past. Blaine struggled to support Washington's army, but by March 1781, when he had gone to Philadelphia to settle his accounts, he intimated that he was not likely to continue long in service if Congress failed to make such changes in his department as would give him the power and means to make purchases when states failed to furnish necessary supplies.96
A month later Blaine was still attempting to get a settlement of his accounts. Shortly thereafter, Washington saw his opportunity for a Franco-American movement against the British. Superintendent of Finance Morris now became involved in the supply of rations to the army. When Congress granted him the power to contract for all necessary supplies for the use of the troops, the commissariat system came to an end, although there was no legislation officially dissolving the Department of the Commissary General of Purchases.97 Since the Superintendent of Finance gradually absorbed the few remaining responsibilities of the Commissary General, Blaine was left with no duties to execute. He therefore submitted his resignation to Congress on 30 July 1781.98 Congress took no action on the resignation, however, and when the Yorktown campaign opened, Blaine continued to serve as Commissary General, carrying out the orders of Washington and Morris, obtaining specific supplies from Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, and supervising the establishment of magazines. Following the surrender of Cornwallis, he provisioned the troops on their return northward and disposed of surplus cattle on hand at Yorktown. He remained in service until late November.99
a plan for abolishing the department altogether add merging its duties, as well as those of the Department of the Commissary General of Issues, in the Quartermaster's Department. The Board of War favored the proposal, but Washington raised objections. He thought the Quartermaster General might be taking on too much work. Pickering's predecessors had found it difficult to execute the civil and military duties of that office, and somewhat grimly Washington added that an active campaign would give Pickering many more military duties to perform than at any time since his appointment. (1) Ibid., item 147, 6:453-60 (Pickering to Pres of Cong, 21 Mar 81). (2) Washington Papers, 168:94 (Richard Peters to Washington, 22 Mar 81). (3) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 21:392-94 (to Bd of War, 30 Mar 81).
96. Bl aine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Washington, 21 Mar 81).
97. JCC, 20:734 (10 Jul 81). A motion to dissolve the department was made on 26 July 1781, but it was simply referred to the Board of War. See 21:791.
98. (1) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Thomas McKean, 30 Jul 81). (2) His resignation letter was referred to a committee for settling accounts. See JCC, 21:812 (30 Jul 81).
99. Among the last actions Blaine took as Commissary General was to apply to Robert Morris for his salary. Although he no longer headed a department, Blaine remained active for some time in provisioning the troops, for Morris executed a contract with him for supplying the post at Fort Pitt. (1) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Morris, 27 Nov 81). (2) Morris Diary, 1:60 (12 Sep 81).
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