Subsisting the Army Under the Commissariat
When New England militia gathered at Cambridge in 1775, each colony had a separate established ration which its commissaries provided its troops.' Provisioning the Continental Army, however, clearly required that a uniform ration be issued to all troops. Adoption of a uniform ration was an immediate necessity for planning purposes, and it would immeasurably simplify Commissary General Joseph Trumbull's task of keeping an adequate supply of provisions flowing to camp.
Uncertainty concerning the size of the army to be supported further complicated Trumbull's procurement planning. The Continental Congress had instructed Washington "to victual at the continental expense all such volunteers as have joined or shall join the united army." When shortly after his arrival at Cambridge Washington requested a return of the troops under his command, he found that those present and fit for duty numbered 17,371.2 Though enthusiasm was running high, this number decreased to 15,105 by the end of 1775 despite the arrival of more New England militiamen and six companies of riflemen from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland, raised by direction of Congress. Unfortunately, the term of enlistment for the New England troops terminated on or before the last day of December. Washington was in danger of having no army, a situation that he called to the attention of the Continental Congress on 21 September. In response, that body dispatched a committee to confer with him and with representatives of the New England colonies on "the most effectual method of continuing, supporting, and regulating a continental army."3
The need for adopting a uniform ration to be issued to all Continental troops was one of the supply problems presented to the committee when it arrived at Cambridge in mid-October. At the same time, Trumbull prepared an estimate of the cost and quantities of subsistence needed to support an army of 22,000 men for the seven-month period from 10 October 1775
1. For Connecticut and Rhode Island rations, see Force, Am. Arch., 4th set., 2:562, 1152.
2. (1) Lesser, The Sinews of Independence, pp. 2-3. (2) JCC, 2:100 (20 Jun 75).
3. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 3:505 - t 5. (2) JCC, 3:265 - 66 (29 and 30 Sep 75).
to 10 May 1776.4 Based on the committee's report, Congress on 4 November 1775 called for an army of 20,372 men, including officers.5 But even after Congress fixed the number of troops to be subsisted, planning by the Commissary Department had to be flexible. Trumbull had to fumish provisions for the sick in hospitals. On occasion Congress directed him to victual Continental warships, though this was a duty that did not properly pertain to his department.6 Commissary General Trumbull and his successors also had to take into account the necessity of subsisting militia who might be called into the field at a time of crisis to augment the strength of the Continental Army. Moreover, the department eventually had to subsist those elements, civilian as well as military, supporting the Continental Amy in the field.
Flexibility in planning was required also by the fact that the Continental Army, like all armies of that time, had its camp followers. Among them were not only ladies of easy virtue but also wives and children, for some soldiers chose to bring their families with them rather than let them remain in British-occupied areas. The women provided much-needed services, for they washed, sewed, and cooked for the troops. Washington complained, however, that they were "a clog upon my movement" and forbade their riding in Army wagons. Nevertheless, the presence of wives ensured that their husbands would not desert to return home to care for their families. In one way or another the camp followers had to be subsisted, though Commissary records reveal no specific provision for them. With the end of the war approaching and the main army dwindling in size, the number of camp followers decreased. Washington issued a General Order in December 1782 allowing 16 rations for every 15 men in a regiment or corps so as to supply the women with them. In other words, for every 15 men one ration would be issued for the women.7 Rations obtained by women during the war years undoubtedly had been more generous.
Adoption of a Uniform Ration
When Congress established the size of the Continental Army in the fall of 1775, it also agreed upon a uniform ration to be issued to all the troops.8 It fixed the components of that ration as follows:
4. Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 3:1045.
5. JCC, 3:32 1.
6. (1) Ibid., 4:393-94 (25 May 76). (2) Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 1:618, 643 (Pres of Cong to Trumbull, 27 Jul, and reply, 29 Jul 76).
7. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:17 (60, 4 Aug 77); 139 (GO, 25 Aug 77); 25:480 (GO, 28 Dec 82). (2) Higginbotham, The War of American Independence, p. 397.
8. (1) JCC, 3:322 (4 Nov 75). (2) This ration compared favorably with that allowed the British soldier in the Revolutionary War. In a typical British contract of 1778-79, the ration provided I lb. of flour per day; 1 lb. of beef per day or slightly more than 9 ounces of pork; (Continued)
Resolved, That a ration consist of the following kind and quantity of provisions, viz: 1 lb. of beef, or 3/4 lb. pork, or I lb. salt fish, per day. 1 lb. of bread or flour per day. 3 pints of pease or beans per week, or vegetables equivalent, at one dollar per bushel for pease or beans. I pint of milk per man per day, or at the rate of 1/72 of a dollar. 1 half pint of Rice, or one pint of indian meal per man per week. 1 quart of spruce beer or cycler per man per day, or nine gallons of Molasses per company of 100 men per week. 3 lbs. candles to 100 Men per week for guards. 24 lbs. of soft or 8 lbs. of hard soap, for 100 men per week.
These prescribed allowances remained unchanged by Congress throughout the war. However, in 1775, and in fact until he relinquished his office, Trumbull provided a more generous allowance than that established by Congress.9 He issued 24 ounces of salted or fresh beef, or 18 ounces of salted pork, per man per day. He also furnished 6 ounces of butter per man per week and allowed 6, rather than 3, pounds of candles per 100 men per week. The inclusion by Congress of milk in the ration appears to have been an ideal; Trumbull did not provide it nor is there any evidence to indicate that any other Continental commissary ever provided it during the war.10 In other details the rations were identical. Beer was not to be had in the Cambridge area, and Trumbull generally furnished molasses as part of the ration. On the other hand, when the troops moved to New York in 1776, molasses was not available, and Trumbull then issued beer to the troops. At that time he estimated that the ration would cost no more than 81/3 pence in New York currency.11
No sooner was the Commissary Department reorganized in the summer of 1777 than the new deputy commissary general of issues in the Middle Department questioned the discrepancies between the allowances claimed by the soldiers and those prescribed by Congress.12 When the question was referred to Washington for an explanation, he called together a board of general officers, which recommended issuing a ration estimated to cost 3 shillings and 4 pence, exclusive of soap and candles. The proposed ration allowance was as follows:
11/4 lb. of beef or I lb. pork, or 11/4 lb. of salt fish. 11/4 lb. of flour, or soft bread, or I lb. of hard bread. 1/2 gill of rum or whisky per day in lieu of beer. 1/2 pt. of rice, or 1 pt. of Indian meal per week. 3 lbs. of candles to 100 men per week. 24 lbs. of soft soap or 8 lbs. of hard soap per 100 men per week.13
3 pints of peas a week; 1/2 lb. of oatmeal a week; and either 6 ounces of butter or 8 ounces of cheese per week. Curtis, "The Provisioning of the British Army in the Revolution," The Magazine of History, 18:234.
9. Washington Papers, 25:77 (Trumbull to Washington, 19 Apr 76).
10. Milk apparently was provided by some commissaries of the colonies before Congress assumed responsibility for the Continental Army. Maj. Gen. Artemas Ward, for example, mentioned the provision of milk in June 1775. Force, Am. Arch., 4th set., 2:1141 (Ward to John Pigeon, 30 Jun 75).
11. Washington Papers, 25:77 (Trumbull to Washington, 19 Apr 76).
12. Ibid., 55:21 (Robert White to John Hancock, 28 Aug 77).
13. The value of a ration was fixed by calculating the purchase price of the several articles which composed it. Ibid., 64:57.
Washington submitted this proposal to Congress, urging the need to increase the former value of the ration in view of the exorbitant prices being paid for every kind of provision by late 1777.14 The value of a ration was important. It was the amount the Commissary Department would have to pay officers and soldiers whose rations were not delivered or, in the case of officers, for example, not drawn because they had been ordered on detachment. With the rising cost of provisions, the existing value did not permit the purchase of a ration. In fact, Washington reported to Congress, some officers, unable to subsist themselves, had resigned their commissions.
Congress prescribed no change. Early in 1778, however, Ephraim Blaine, then deputy commissary general of purchases in the Middle Department, met with the general officers of the main army. Washington thereupon announced a revised ration in General Orders on 16 April 1778, which was to be issued according to the state of the stores in camp.15 With military operations largely centered in the Middle Department, the resources in that area eventually became depleted. Allowances tended to be adjusted on the basis of availability of items, and in the summer of 1778 Congress specifically vested authority to adjust the allowances in the Commander in Chief. He could give a larger proportion of a plentiful subsistence item in lieu of, and in full satisfaction for, an item that was scarce or not to be had at all.16
The Revolutionary soldier was largely subsisted on a bread and meat diet, and the Commissary Department was, for the most part, judged successful in its operations if it provided a sufficient quantity of flour and beef. Vegetables were usually lacking, and vinegar, later included in the ration for antiscorbutic purposes, was often omitted by commissaries. Beer and cider, included in the original ration, and whiskey, authorized as part of the ration in April 1778, were never plentiful. Even when issued, one gill of whiskey or spirits was a meager allowance to a soldier attempting to ward off the bitter cold at Morristown, for example. Sutlers stocked some provisions, and Washington authorized markets at camp where farmers could sell their products. Soldiers, however, had little money to buy supplementary foods, but in the Revolution, as in later wars, they were good at "liberating" provisions. A sergeant recorded that when his patrol came upon a sheep and two large turkeys, "not Being able to give the
14. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:205 (to Bd of War, 10 Sep 77); 476 (to Pres of Cong, 1 Nov 77); 10:38 (to same, 11 Nov 77).
15. Ibid., 11:265. The ration called for the following: 1½ lbs. flour or bread, 1 lb. beef or fish, 3/4 lb. pork, and 1 gill whiskey or spirits; or 1½ lbs. flour or bread, ½ lb. pork or bacon, ½ pt. peas or beans, and 1 gill whiskey or spirits.
16. (1) JCC, 11:838 (26 Aug 78). (2) For example, when a larger quantity of rice than of flour was in store in August 1778, Washington issued a General Order altering the ration to allow ½ gill of rice per day, three times a week, in lieu of 1/2 lb. of flour. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 12:361 (27 Aug 78).
Countersign," they were "tryd by fire & executed by the whole Division of the free Booters."17
The British soldier fared little better than his American counterpart. It is doubtful that he always received the specified ration, since the victualing ships bringing provisions from Cork, Ireland, arrived irregularly and the quantity of provisions on hand in magazines fluctuated greatly. Moreover, there were frequent complaints of moldy bread, weevily biscuits, sour flour, and maggoty beef. Like the American forces, the British troops in America were often on the verge of starvation. In 1778 and 1779 Maj. Gen. Henry Clinton, commander of the British forces, sounded like General Washington in the warnings he included in his letters to the British government on the dangers of inadequate provisions and the "fatal consequences" that would result.18
The Ration and Health
An unrelieved diet of half-cooked meat and hard bread contributed to sickness among the Continental troops. In the summer of 1777 Washington cited the almost complete lack of vegetables, vinegar, and proper beverages as the cause of "the many putrid diseases incident to the Army and the lamentable Mortality" that diminished his army's strength.19 He acknowledged that sufficient quantities of some vegetables could not be obtained during the winter months, but the fact that the troops received no vegetables at all, he charged, resulted from the inefficiency of personnel in the Commissary Department. If proper persons were employed, he suggested in a letter to a committee from Congress, sauerkraut and vinegar could easily be obtained and used to prevent scurvy. Acting promptly on this suggestion, Congress on 25 July directed the Board of War to contract for a supply of beer, cider, vegetables, vinegar, and sauerkraut. Ten days later, however, Washington was still lamenting that no one had yet procured such supplies.20 This delay was a concomitant of the reorganization of the Commissary Department that was under way in the summer of 1777. To alleviate the distress of the soldiers, Washington in the meantime had ordered the regimental officer of the day to have gathered the common sorrel and watercress that grew plentifully about the camp. These
17. "Sergeant John Smith's Diary of 1776," ed. Louise Rau, Mississippi Valley Historical Review 20 (1933 - 34): 252.
18. Curtis, "The Provisioning of the British Army in the Revolution," The Magazine of History, 18:234, 237-39.
19. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:439 (to Philip Livingston et al., 19 Jul 77). (2) Elbridge Gerry warned Trumbull that few men could subsist only on a bread, meat, and water diet. Burnett, Letters, 2:312 (26 Mar 77).
20. (1) JCC,, 3:295, 390 (25 Jul and 12 Sep 77). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:19-20 (to Bd of War, 5 Aug 77). (3) Washington Papers, 53:51 (Bd of War to Washington, 6 Aug 77).
greens were to be distributed among the men, for they made an agreeable salad and had a "most salutary effect" on health.21
Disease was in no small measure promoted also by the difficulties the soldiers encountered in maintaining personal cleanliness and by their general disregard of camp sanitation. Washington constantly expressed concern for the health and welfare of his troops. He issued numerous General Orders on sanitation, military health, and the policing of camps, huts, and quarters. His soldiers, however, persisted in being woefully oblivious of the need to maintain sanitary surroundings. In riding through the camps in New York in September 1776, for example, Washington observed large pieces of good beef not only throw away but left above ground to purify.
He lectured the troops on the wastefulness as well as on the health problems involved in such practices. That his orders brought no permanent improvement in conditions is clear. In making a periodic inspection of the camp at Vally Forge in March 1778, Washington found carcasses of dead horses and offal in the streets.22
Washington was critical of the small amount of soap allowed in the ration. Moreover, the price at which any additional supply could be obtained was such that the soldier could not afford to purchase it, On the basis of the established ration of 24 pounds of soft soap or 8 pounds of hard soap for every 100 men per week, each man would obtain 1.28 ounces of hard soap or 3.94 ounces of soft soap per week. Even this meager amount was not always supplied by the commissary. Regimental commanding officers apparently often spent their own money to procure soap for the use of their regiments. A board of general officers concluded that a weekly allowance of 5 ounces of soap per man was the necessary minimum. When soap was issued, however, it was not necessarily used to promote cleanliness, for there is evidence to show that soldiers sold it-a practice that was common enough to cause another board of officers to recommend severe punishment for any soldier caught in the act.23
Preparation of Food
The Continental Army had neither field kitchens nor service troops enlisted to prepare food. Preparation of the ration was left strictly to the individual soldier. The only utensil issued to the troops appears to have been a camp kettle. It had a capacity of 9 quarts and weighed from 2 to 3 pounds. Customarily a kettle, along with a lid, was issued to every 6 men. They carried the kettle unless they were able to put it on a wagon without being detected by a wagonmaster.
21. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:210 (GO, 9 Jun 77).
22. Ibid., 6:125 (GO, 28 Sep 76); 11:74-75 (GO, 13 Mar 78).
23. (1) Ibid., 8:441 (to committee at camp, 19 Jul 77). (2) Washington Papers, 53:71 (7 Aug 77).
The cooking was usually done by one soldier in each company. The soldier chosen as cook, however, seldom appreciated the honor. It's "a hard game," one private lamented when he was chosen to cook for twelve men.24 Food preparation was primitive regardless of whether the men were in quarters or in the field. During a campaign around Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania, in December 1777, for example, the men had no utensils whatsoever in which to cook their provisions. The beef was lean; there was no salt; and the only way to cook the meat, Private Elijah Fisher recorded, was "to throw it on the Coles and brile it." He added that "the Warter we had to Drink and to mix our flower with was out of a brook that run along by the Camp, and so many a dippin and washin [in] it which made it very Dirty and muddy.25
The diarists of the American Revolution were not given to recording such routine details as the preparation of their food. Only occasional glimpses remain of meat broiling over furs or, more rarely, stewing in camp kettles with vegetables when these rare provisions were issued by commissaries or bought from farmers. Records provide somewhat more information on the use made of the flour ration issued to the troops.
During the first two years of the war, the hoops received their prescribed daily ration allowance of flour To obtain bread in camp, the commanding officer of a regiment would permit a soldier who was a baker by trade to go to a neighboring house to bake for the regiment. He was aided by one or two other soldiers detailed as assistants. The flour of the regiment was pooled, and the bakers returned to the soldier one pound of bread for each pound of flour received. Since a pound of flour made much more than a pound of bread, the bakers were thereby able to make a profit for themselves of 30 percent in flour. Inasmuch as there was no supervision, unscrupulous bakers could increase profits even more by increasing the proportion of water. The bakers looked upon the surplus flour as their perquisite. They disposed of it by selling it to the country people in the vicinity of camp; if the camp moved, they loaded the flour into public wagons and carried it away to a better market. Brig. Gen. Henry Knox wrote Washington of a case in which the one or two soldiers who baked for part of an Artillery regiment of some 250 to 300 men had made such a profit in flour that in one emergency they were able to lend the commissary of the Artillery Park enough flour to issue 1,000 rations for 8 days.26 In other regiments, he added, soldiers were permitted to carry their flour allowance into the country to trade it for bread. This practice, Knox charged, provided a pretext for straggling and afforded opportunities to plunder the local inhabitants.
24. Charles K. Bolton, The Private Soldier Under Washington (1902; Kennikat Press reprint, 1964), p. 78.
25. William Matthews and Dixon Wecter, Our Soldiers Speak, 1775-1918 (Boston, 1943), pp. 56-57 (extract from diary of Private Elijah Fisher).
26. Washington Papers, 168:129 (24 Mar 81).
On active operations, the commissary was supposed to issue to the soldier hard bread that he could carry in his knapsack. But frequently hard bread was not available, and the soldier then drew a pound of flour that he learned to make into a sodden cake. This cake, cooked on hot stones, he derisively called "firecake."
When the troops marched to New York in April 1776, Trumbull commandeered all available ovens in Hartford, Norwich, and other Connecticut towns to turn flour into bard bread for their use. This bread could be "nearly hard enough for musket flints," as Private Joseph Plum Martin discovered when his regiment was ordered to Long Island. As the men moved off the ferry, they were allowed to help themselves from several open casks of sea bread. With characteristic foresight, Martin took advantage of a momentary halt made by the troops just as he was abreast of the casks.
I improved the opportunity thus offered me, as every good soldier should upon all important occasions, get as many of the biscuit as I possibly could.... I filled my bosom, and took as many as I could hold in my hand, a dozen or more in all and when we arrived at the ferry-stairs I stowed them away in my knapsack.
During the New York campaign itself, when hard bread became unavailable and retreat left no time for baking, Washington pointed out that in the French and Indian War no soldiers, except those in garrison, had been furnished with baked bread, and none had been provided with ovens on marches-The Continental troops, he maintained, would have to imitate their predecessors and make the best use they could of the flour they drew from the commissary. But by July 1777 he was recommending that each brigade use temporary ovens that "by men who understand it, can be erected in a few hours." In these the troops could bake a bread superior to the commonly used firecake. About the same time, anticipating transportation difficulties, he ordered the construction of portable ovens made of sheet iron. These ovens were produced at the Ringwood, New Jersey, iron furnace and were so small that two could be carried in a wagon. Although ordered in the summer of 1777, it was the end of the year before the ovens were ready for distribution, one to each brigade.27 By that time supply had broken down completely, and the troops were facing the bitter winter of Valley Forge.
In the meantime, Congress had taken steps to try to provide well-baked, wholesome bread. In the spring of 1777 it had appointed Christopher Ludwick, a skillful, patriotic German baker of Philadelphia, as superintendent of bakers and director of baking in the Continental Army, allowing him 75 dollars a month and two rations a day for his services. Only such
27. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:7 (GO, 2 Sep 76); 8:351 (GO, 5 Jul 77); 10:63 (to Robert Erskine, 14 Nov 77); 271 (GO, 6 Jan 78). (2) Washington Papers, 61:114 (Erskine ,to Washington, 24 Nov 77). (3) Scheer, Private Yankee Doodle, p. 23.
persons as he licensed could exercise the trade of baker for the troops. Ludwick began by taking personal charge of the public ovens established at Morristown, but initially he had some difficulty in obtaining journeymen bakers, for they also served as militiamen. Only by applying to the Executive Council of Pennsylvania was he able to obtain the services of the men he wanted. He erected public ovens in suitable places in Pennsylvania and along the route of march in New Jersey, baked bread in the quantities required, and, when necessary, hired and even impressed wagons to transport bread to the troops.28
The breakdown of supply at Valley Forge, however, convinced Congress that the main army needed a permanent staff of bakers. The organization it proposed was to supplement, but not to interfere with, the baking operations of Ludwick. Late in February 1778 Congress directed that a company of bakers be raised to bake bread for Washington's army. This company, enlisted for one year and subject to the rules and articles of war, was to consist of a director, 3 subdirectors, 12 foremen, and 60 bakers. In addition to a monthly salary and daily rations, each foreman and baker was granted the same clothing allowance as noncommissioned officers in the Continental Army.29
Congress ordered the Board of War to raise the company of bakers and to appoint the director and subdirectors. The intent was to save for the government the profit made by converting flour to bread. The Board of War delegated this responsibility to Maj. Gen. William Heath, commanding in the Eastern Department. He raised a company in Boston and appointed John Torrey its captain. Torrey and his company arrived at Valley Forge in June 1778, expecting to bake soft bread for the troops. Except for the staff, however, no one wanted the bread since the men could make a profit by drawing their flour ration and exhanging it themselves. Shortly after Torrey's arrival the 1778 campaign began as Washington's troops pursued the British across New Jersey. Bewildered by these events, Torrey maintained that he could not bake the hard bread expected for an active campaign, for a camp was an improper place for doing so. In September he proposed that he be allowed to return to Boston and bake hard bread there. In late January 1779 he discharged his bakers even though their terms of service did not expire until April. Congress' effort to provide a permanent staff of bakers with the main army in the field thus ended in failure.30
28. (1) JCC, 7:324-25 (3 May 77); 8:575 (23 Jul 77). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:475 (to Ludwick, 25 Jul 77).
25. JCC, 10:206 (27 Feb 78).
30. (1) Washington Papers, 85:67 (Charles Pettit to Washington, 23 Sep 78). Though this company of bakers was independent of the Quartermaster's Department, Washington had ordered Assistant Quartermaster General Pettit to direct its operations. (2) APS, Greene Letters, 9:98 (Torrey to Pettit, 24 Jan 79).
Ludwick and his staff continued baking hard bread at Morristown for Washington’s army. In 1780 he was furnishing 1,500 loaves of bread daily. He proposed that another oven be built so that production could be increased. To prevent waste of flour, he recommended that only hard bread be issued in the daily ration. Washington supported Ludwick's recommendations and ordered him to West Point to erect ovens capable of producing a daily supply of 6,000 to 8,000 pounds of bread. Ludwick was also to erect ovens in New York at Stoney Point and Verplanck's Point.31 The breakdown of supply in 1781 under the system of specific supplies induced Ludwick to submit his resignation, but Congress refused to accept it. Ludwick continued as baker to the Continental Army until the war ended. His operations during the last years were centered at West Point.
Flour Supply Under Trumbull
New England did not produce sufficient wheat to provide the flour needed by the Continental Army in 1775. In fact. long before the war that area had regularly purchased grain from merchants in New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Not surprisingly then, even before Congress appointed a Commissary General, it requested New York to ship 5,000 barrels of flour for the use of the troops at Cambridge. Such shipments continued under Trumbull's direction. His agent in New York forwarded 7,000 barrels of flour to Cambridge, for which Congress provided the funds for payment in October. For the benefit of the congressional committee at camp, Trumbull estimated on 11 October that it would take 25,000 barrels of flour to support an army of 22,000 men for a seven-month period.32
When the main Continental army moved to New York in the spring of 1776, it went into a grain-producing area, but the demands upon the Commissary Department for flour for both Washington's army and the Northern Army in Canada were so great that Trumbull used the services of Matthew Irwin, a merchant of Philadelphia, as his deputy to purchase 20,000 barrels of flour there. Trumbull felt justified in taking this step, he informed Congress, since it was cheaper to buy and deliver this flour than to purchase it in New York.33 Congress approved and paid the bills.
The demands for flour became even greater when Washington's army evacuated New York City, for it left behind a large quantity of flour for lack of wagons to transport it to safety. In this emergency Trumbull
31. (1) For a list of Ludwick's personnel at Morristown, see RG 11, CC Papers, item 39, 3:291 (22 Jun 81). (2) APS, Greene Letters, 1:203 (Ludwick to Washington, 7 Jan 80). (3) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 19:103-04 (to Udny Hay, 30 Jun 80); 20:169 (to Greene, 12 Oct 80).
32. (1) JCC, 2:84 (9 Jun 75); 3:299-300 (19 Oct 75). (2) Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 3:1045 (estimate, 11 Oct 75).
33. (1) Ibid., 4th ser., 6:438-39 (Trumbull to Pres of Cong, 17 Jun 76). (2) JCC, 5:459-60.
appealed to the New York Convention for assistance, which was readily granted. The New York Committee of Safety not only empowered its agent to purchase wheat and have it ground into flour but it also authorized him to impress wagons and drivers, if necessary, to provide transportation. In addition, it exempted from militia duty for two months all coopers in Dutchess, Westchester, Orange, Ulster, Albany, Tryon, and Charlotte Counties who were employed in making the necessary barrels for flour, beef, and pork.34
Such was the scarcity of flour by 1 November that Washington warned Trumbull there was no more than four or five days' supply on hand, if it was issued with great care and economy. There was flour at Fort Lee, New Jersey, as Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene reported, but insufficient transportation to get it to the main army. When the British soon captured that fort, 1,000 barrels of flour were lost.35
To improve the supply situation in the future, Congress, late in November 1776, empowered Trumbull to import rice from the southern states. About a month later, in response to a plan proposed by the Commissary General, Congress also empowered him to import flour from Maryland and Virginia. It further directed the Virginia delegates to write the governor and council of that state to contract for the delivery of 10,000 barrels of flour on the James, York, Rappahannock, and Potomac Rivers. Trumbull was to send vessels to take on board the flour, paying for it by drafts on the President of Congress.36 Thus by the end of 1776 the channels of supply for obtaining flour from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia had been established.
Importance of Salt
Salt was almost as essential in the Revolutionary War as gunpowder and almost as scarce. In the absence of refrigeration and canning processes, the colonists used salt as a preservative for pickling meat and fish. Salt fish had early developed into an important article of trade, but without salt the New England fisheries could not have operated. The American colonists had become accustomed to importing salt from Turks Island, a British possession in the Bahamas. Bermudians at an early date had erected salt works there and at the Dry Tortugas. They had sold the salt to passing American vessels or they had used it in trading with the American colonies.37
34. Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 2:699 (Trumbull to N.Y. Convention, 16 Sep 76); 469 (to same, 23 Sep 76); 3:588 (29 Oct 76).
35. (1) Washington Papers, 35:64. (2) Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 3:523 (Greene to Washington, 5 Nov 76). (3) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:295 (to Pres of Cong, 19 Nov 76).
36. (1) JCC, 6:989 (28 Nov 76); 1040-41 (26 Dec 76). (2) See also Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 3:1202-03 (Trumbull to Pres of Cong, 13 Dec 76). (3) Washington Papers, 37:70 (Trumbull to Washington, same date).
37. (1) Wilfred B. KerT, Bermuda and the American Revolution, 1760-1783 (Princeton, 1936), p. 5. (2) See also A. E. Verrill, "Relations Between Bermuda and the American Colonies
Turks Island was officially closed by the British to American shipping early in the war, and salt in consequence became a critical item of supply. On the other hand, the Bermudians were dependent on the American colonies for grain and flour, and their petitions for access to the American market found a favorable reception by the Continental Congress. In the fall of 1775 it specifically exempted both Bermuda and the Bahamas from the embargo it had imposed on trade. The Bermudians were permitted to ship salt into the colonies, obtaining provisions in exchange, and their vessels were exempted from capture by American privateers. Throughout the war they conducted a lively trade, exchanging salt for flour and grain.38
Congress took additional steps to alleviate the salt shortage. Before the close of 1775 it passed resolutions permitting Virginia, North Carolina, and Maryland to export foodstuffs, normally barred from trade by the Articles of Association, if shipmasters would give bond to import salt on their return voyages. The following year it empowered the Secret Committee to import salt on the ships it employed. In the summer of 1777 it reemphasized this policy by directing that all masters of vessels importing cargoes purchased on the account of the United States were to be instructed to ballast their vessels with salt if at all possible. The Secret Committee was to direct the agents for the United States in Europe and the West Indies to send salt on all ships bound for America. Congress recommended, moreover, that the states import salt on their own initiative. Congress also sought to stimulate the domestic production of salt. Shortly after the outbreak of the war it appointed a committee to inquire into the cheapest and easiest methods of making salt in the colonies. It urged the establishment of salt works along the coast and recommended that the colonial assemblies give encouragement to the making of salt in their respective colonies. 39
When Commissary General Trumbull was preparing to establish magazines of provisions for the Continental Army in the fall of 1776, Congress directed him to procure such quantities of salt as he judged necessary. This order was not explicit enough to meet Trumbull's needs. It was his intention to prepare magazines of salt provisions in New England from which the troops could be supplied. Much of the country's salt, however, was then in the hands of Continental Agents, as he had pointed out to a congressional committee at camp. Trumbull wanted and obtained a further order from Congress directing the Continental Agents to deliver to him all the salt in their possession belonging to the United States. But even this amount of salt, he feared, would be insufficient, and he proposed
During the Revolutionary War," Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 13 (1907): 554.
38. Kerr, Bermuda and the American Revolution, pp. 53 - 54.
39. (1) JCC, 2:235 (31Jul 75); 3:464-65 (29 Dec 75); 4:290 (17 Apr 76); 6:935 (8 Nov 76); 8:461-62 (13 Jun 77); 562 (17 Jul 77). (2) East, Business Enterprise in the American Revolutionary Era, pp. 60, 75.
that he be allowed to send agents abroad for it. The deficiency by the fall of 1776 was such that he directed that salt be used sparingly in putting up provisions for the troops. It was his intent to repack and pickle these provisions more thoroughly after he obtained more salt. On 9 October Congress empowered the Commissary General to employ suitable persons to import salt .40
The demand for salt in 1776 was so great that the commodity was soon hoarded by unscrupulous profiteers, who would sell only at exorbitant prices. So many complaints were made against them that Congress encouraged the states to fix the price. Action taken by the Pennsylvania Council of Safety to regulate the price of salt, however, proved ineffectual. Salt continued to be scarcer and dearer at Philadelphia than in those states where no price regulation had been, attempted. As a result, Congress late in the year recommended that Pennsylvania remove all restraints on the sale of salt.41
In 1778 the Commissary Department was still attempting to import the salt it needed. It was not always successful, however, in its efforts. Deputy Commissary General Peter Colt of the Eastern Department, for example, employed Miller and Tracy of Boston to send out vessels to purchase salt. Of the thirteen vessels chartered, more than half were captured on their outward passage by British patrols. Consequently, the Commissary Department owed about 20,000 pounds for the loss of the vessels and for the charter of those that returned. Colt appealed to Congress for funds to discharge these debts and quiet the complaints of the owners of the lost vessels, who were impatient for their money.42 While the importation of salt was hampered by enemy patrols, coastal salt works in New Jersey and in Virginia became targets for British raiders. Under the system of specific supplies, Congress assigned quotas of salt to be supplied by the states. Neither commissaries nor contractors found it easy to procure an adequate supply, and throughout the war both the civilian and the soldier suffered from its scarcity.
Meat Supply Under Trumbull
Meat, whether fresh or cured, was a basic article of the ration issued to the Revolutionary soldier. Procedures and channels of supply developed during Commissary General Trumbull's tenure of office continued to be used throughout the war. As the time of butchering approached in the fall of 1775, Trumbull was confronted with the necessity of accumulating
40. (1) JCC, 5:825 (25 Sep 76); 849 (5 Oct 76); 6:857, 859 (9 Oct 76). (2) Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 2:920, 963 (Trumbull to Pres of Cong, 7 and 9 Oct 76).
41. JCC, 6:1014-15 (9 Dec 76).
42. RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 5:225 - 28 (Colt to Pres of Cong, 25 Sep 78).
magazines of provisions to support the troops in the next campaign. Preparing magazines of salted meats for the Continental Army posed no problem since New England produced many hogs and was the center of a thriving cattle-raising industry. To save the cost of transporting cured meat---transportation costs were always a factor to be considered in the Revolution-Trumbull proposed to drive the livestock that his agents procured to within twenty miles of camp to be slaughtered there. His plan, submitted to the congressional committee then at Washington's headquarters, was subsequently approved by the Continental Congress.43 Trumbull's preparations went forward. In addition, he had a slaughterhouse built at Medford, Massachusetts, where one of his four issuing stores was located, and he also entered into a contract to ensure that pork was properly cured.44
In the spring of 1776 the demand for salted meats was greatly increased by the need to supply not only the main Continental army in New York but also the Northern Army in Canada. In April, for example, the Continental Congress directed Trumbull to provide and forward to Maj. Gen. Philip Schuyler 2,000 barrels of pork. It also ordered Thomas Lowrey, commissary in New Jersey, to purchase another 2,000 barrels of salted pork for the Northern Army. To meet the requirements of Washington's army in New York, Trumbull ordered a commissary to buy pork in the Philadelphia area in June, and two months later he requested the loan of 1,000 barrels of pork from the New York Convention, to be replaced when his shipments from Massachusetts arrived. To assist him in meeting the increased demands, Congress prohibited the exportation of salted beef and pork.45 Although still depending primarily on the New England area, Trumbull now widened his procurement efforts in the Middle Department. He employed Carpenter Wharton in October 1776 to purchase all the salt "westward of New Jersey" and to use it to cure as much pork as he could, drawing on Congress for the necessary funds. Trumbull expected to obtain some 8,000 to 9,000 barrels of cured pork from this source.46
in the meantime, the main Continental army was falling back across New Jersey. With the British threatening Philadelphia, the Continental Congress adjourned, leaving a committee there to transact official business. Writing to Robert Morris, a member of that committee, Washington on 30 December 1776 complained of his army's lack of provisions, which was "the greatest
43. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 4th ser., 3:1157-58 (committee's minutes, 20 Oct 75). (2) JCC, 3:323 (4 Nov 75).
44. Johnson, Administration of the American Commissariat During the Revolutionary War, p. 44.
45. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 4th set., 6:438-39 (Trumbull to Pres of Cong, 17 Jun 76); 5th set., 1:1511 (Trumbull to N.Y. Convention, 14 Aug 76). (2) JCC, 4:297, 303-04 (19 and 25 Apr 76); 5:441 (14 Jun 76).
46. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 2: 1011 (Trumbull to Pres of Cong, 12 Oct 76). (2) JCC, 6:879-80 (16 Oct 76).
impediment to our Motion." He added that "Jersey has been swept so clean that there is no dependence upon any thing there." He appealed to the committee to give the Commissary General any assistance it could. The committee was well aware that New Jersey had suffered depredations from both the British and the main Continental armies. "It is not what they consume that does the mischief," it reported, "but the destruction of provisions, first by one side and then by the other." Since New Jersey would be unable to provide as large a quantity of pork as it had in the past, another channel of supply would be needed. To meet the large requirements for the following summer, the committee proposed drawing supplies from the southern states, which had been exempt from the ravages of war.47
On 9 January 1777 Congress recommended that Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland immediately appoint suitable persons to purchase and collect such quantities of beef and pork as they could cure. It requested the Secret Committee to "fall upon some expedient immediately" for supplying North Carolina with salt for this purpose. Congress also recommended that the states limit the prices to be paid and that they grant a reasonable commission to the purchasers to stimulate them "to be active and industrious." The states were to store the cured meat in suitable magazines convenient to transportation.48 Thereafter, except for occasional interruptions by enemy action, the southern states provided considerable quantities of salted provisions, which reached the main army via Head of Elk.
The issue of fresh meat to the troops first posed problems for the Commissary Department after Washington's army moved from Boston to New York in the spring of 1776. To provide a supply of fresh meat, the department kept droves of cattle in the rear of the troops, to be killed or moved with the army as circumstances required. The retreat in New York having resulted in the loss of provisions, the New York Convention came to the aid of the Commissary Department by providing cattle as well as flour. The Commander in Chief advised William Duer to send as many cattle as he could collect; the drovers were to take all precautions to prevent the cattle falling into British hands. At the same time, Washington directed Trumbull to do what he could to replenish the lost provisions.49
Since New England was a cattle-raising center, Trumbull drew most of his supplies of fresh beef from there, employing the services of Henry Champion of Connecticut as his "beef man.1150 Champion continued to serve the Commissary Department as its chief purchasing agent for cattle in New England until the system of specific supplies eliminated such agents.
47. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:457 (30 Dec 76). (2) Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 3:1483-84 (committee to Pres of Cong, 30 Dec 76).
48. JCC, 7:26-27.
49. (1) Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 1:1095-96, 1138-39 (Tench Tilghman to Duer, 17 and 20 Oct 76). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:217-19 (to Trumbull, 20 Oct 76).
50. Force, Am. Arch., 5th ser., 1:1082 (Trumbull to Col. John Chester, 20 Aug 76).
After 1776 his efforts were supplemented by those of cattle-purchasing commissaries in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Some of these commissaries were also responsible for receiving cattle delivered from New England. For example, Deputy Commissary General Blaine in 1777 instructed one of his purchasing commissaries in the Middle Department to select and lease good pastures in safe places for cattle delivered from New England and to keep the cattle under the care of drovers until they were requisitioned for the troops.51 This practice was followed until the Commissary Department was abolished.
Provisioning the Continental Army required a system of magazines, but that need was only partly perceived at the beginning of the war, The channels for purchasing subsistence that Trumbull had utilized as commissary to the Connecticut troops proved entirely satisfactory in 1775 when he assumed the broader responsibilities of Commissary General to the Continental Army. Flour, shipped by water routes from New York to Connecticut, was forwarded from Norwich to Washington's army. Vegetables, flour, pork, and butter, procured by Thomas Mumford at Groton, Connecticut, were sent to Clarke and Nightengale, merchants of Providence, Rhode Island, who forwarded them to Cambridge. Other purchasing deputies continued to forward provisions from the fertile Connecticut River valley. When these provisions reached the Cambridge area, Trumbull deposited them in permanently located stores, from which rations were issued to the troops besieging Boston.
An entirely different situation confronted the Commissary Department when Washington moved his army to New York in April 1776. For the first time Trumbull had to provision troops on the march, depositing supplies in advance at strategic points from Boston to New York. When the troops encamped in New York, he had no difficulty in drawing in ample stores of flour, beef, and pork from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and the rich and readily accessible hinterland of New York City. However, no sooner had he prepared well-stocked magazines than Washington's army was forced to evacuate the city, losing much of these supplies. Obviously, it was ill-advised to have large stocks of rations with the army. Thereafter, the Commissary Department kept only the necessary minimum amount of supplies in the rear of the army, the cattle and the wagons with provisions moving with the troops. This procedure was followed throughout the war.52
51. Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (20 Aug 77).
52. During the campaign of 1777, which involved the main army in almost constant movement, Deputy Commissary General Blaine kept wagons loaded with biscuits and rum "for a moving Magazine." Ibid. (to Buchanan, 24 Sep 77).
At Washington's direction, Trumbull in the fall of 1776 moved accumulated stores of provisions out of the reach of the enemy to permanent magazines in the interior parts of the country. Although Washington did not indicate exact locations for magazines, he suggested finding places in Connecticut that were not susceptible to attacks by water. He also emphasized the importance of the Peekskill post and the need for a magazine there. Other magazines, he thought, might be established at or near the passes through the Highlands of the Hudson.53
While Trumbull and his deputies prepared these magazines and those of salted meats in New England, Washington and his staff were making plans for other magazines on a line of communications to Philadelphia. At the end of October General Greene prepared an estimate of both provisions and forage that ought to be laid in at designated posts between that city and Fort Lee. His estimate also included the distances between posts and the water transportation that could be utilized. Some of the posts were to be used simply as deposit points to provide a week's rations for 20,000 men on their way to Philadelphia-those, for example, at Springfield, Boundbrook, and Princeton, New Jersey. Others, such As that at Trenton, were to maintain rations for 20,000 men for 3 months. Trenton was to become one of the major permanent provision magazines of the war. Washington approved the proposed plan, and Greene directed the commissaries to lay in the provisions as fast as possible while the Quartermaster's Department attended to the forage requirements. 54
In the absence of the Commissary General, Washington in December directed Trumbull's deputy, Carpenter Wharton, to lay in provisions at York, Lancaster, and Milltown, Pennsylvania, for 20,000 men. Wharton was also to have provisions deposited on the roads leading from Lancaster to Winchester, Virginia, and from the head of Chesapeake Bay to Alexandria, Virginia, in order to support troops on their march from the southern states.55 Thus by the end of 1776 arrangements had been made for major magazines of provisions at secure places in the interior of the country and at posts where the supplies could be protected, both from the British and from the disaffected.
Supply During the Winter of 1776-1777
So successful had the Commissary General been in provisioning the troops during the Boston campaign that Washington in the summer of 1776
53. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:217-19, 220-21, 268-69 (to Trumbull, 20 and 21 Oct, 10 Nov 76).
54. Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 2:1281 (Greene to Washington, 29 Oct 76); 5th ser., 3:523 (same to same, 5 No ' v 76).
55. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:416-417 (to Wharton, 21 Dec 76). (2) JCC, 6:1031 (21 Dec 76).
wrote, "Few Armies, if any, have been better and more plentifully supplied than the Troops under Mr. Trumbull's care."56 Trumbull deserved all the credit given him, but at this stage of the war enthusiasm was still high. Washington's army was encamped in the midst of a sympathetic people, and provisions were plentiful and readily obtainable. The real test of provisioning the troops was yet to come. Washington's evaluation of the performance of the Commissary Department when the troops were camped at Morristown in the winter of 1776-77 was vastly different.
In mid-December it appeared that the campaign of 1776, following the disheartening retreat through New Jersey, had ended with both armies about to settle into winter quarters. As early as 8, December, however, Washington had begun to think that an unorthodox winter counterattack against the British would be advantageous to the American cause. With such a project afoot, it is understandable why Washington was unhappy that his Commissary General was in New England to supervise preparations for the next campaign. As so often happened, Washington needed his staff officer in two places at the same time.
Shortly after Trumbull's departure, Washington had learned of developments that threatened the bread supply of his army. Either because the millers were unwilling to part with their flour or because the farmers were reluctant to dispose of their wheat, a shortage of flour appeared likely. On 20 December Washington instructed Wharton, Trumbull's deputy with the main army, to inquire into the matter, seizing either the mills or the wheat, depending on where the fault lay. Wharton was to pay the full value of the flour or wheat taken. On the following day Washington directed the deputy to prepare magazines in Pennsylvania. In consequence, when Washington attacked Trenton on 26 December, Wharton was not with the army but in Philadelphia soliciting funds from Congress for the preparation of the magazines. 57
Washington complained that when he wanted to capitalize on his successes at Trenton and Princeton, he found the movement of his army impeded by a lack of provisions. However, the fact that the army was also ill-clad, shoeless, excessively fatigued, and about to be diminished in strength by the expiration of enlistments would have compelled it to become inactive in any case. Shortly after the troops went into winter quarters at Morristown, Washington wrote the Pennsylvania Council of Safety to request that-it assist the commissaries in purchasing flour. A scarcity of flour in Pennsylvania, he asserted, "must be fictitious and not owing to any real want."58
56. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 5:192 (to Pres of Cong, 28 Jun 76).
57. (1) Ibid., 6:409 (to Wharton, 20 Dec 76); 421 (to Morris, 22 Dec 76). (2) Force, Am. Arch., 5th set., 3:1511 (Wharton to Pres of Cong, 30 Dec 76).
58. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 6:505 (12 Jan 77).
Though the troops at Morristown appeared to have sufficient quantities of meat and flour, complaints mounted. "The Cry of want of provisions comes to me from every Quarter," Washington wrote to Deputy Commissary Matthew Irwin in February. He demanded to know "why were you so desirous of excluding others from this business when you are unable to accomplish it yourself?" He called repeatedly for Trumbull, still absent from headquarters, to return "to regulate the business of your dept. " In March Elbridge Gerry wrote Trumbull that he was glad to hear of his success in procuring supplies, but he added that measures ought to be taken to provide vegetables daily to the troops and to procure large quantities of vinegar. Few men, he concluded, "can subsist upon Bread, Meat, and Water."59 For the benefit of a congressional committee, Washington later summed up the situation.
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 the last campaign, and the whole of this [1777,] have scarcely tasted any kind of Vegetables, had but little Salt, and Vinegar, which would have been tolerable Substitute for Vegetables, they have been in a great measures strangers to. Neither have they been provided with proper drink. Beer or Cyder seldom comes within the verge of the Camp, and Rum in much too small quantities.60
Trumbull returned to Philadelphia in April 1777. He conferred with a committee of Congress, reporting the amount of provisions at Head of Elk, Lancaster, and Carlisle as well as the supplies of salted meat in Connecticut and Massachusetts available for both the main Continental army and the Northern Army. He explained that his department supplied fresh meat three days out of seven and would shortly increase deliveries. Since there was no shortage of flour, the army was in no danger of suffering from any lack of provisions. The reason for the existing appearance of shortages, he argued, grew out of actions taken by Congress. Alarmed by the threat of an enemy advance on Philadelphia, Congress had ordered the removal of stores at Lebanon to Carlisle and of supplies at Philadelphia to Lancaster. In carrying out this removal, he explained, a sufficient quantity of stores had not been retained to supply the main army.61
Though this report calmed fears of shortages, other events raised new alarms. On 23 March 1777 a British foray against Peekskill had resulted in its complete destruction. Large quantities of provisions, together with boats and wagons, were burned, while arms and ammunition were carried off. Approximately a month later the British undertook a similar attack against
59. (1) Ibid., 7:189 (to Matthew Irwin, 22 Feb 77); 325-26 (to Trumbull, 28 May 77). (2) Burnett, Letters, 2:312 (Gerry to Trumbull, 26 Mar 77).
60. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:441 (to Gerry, Philip Livingston, and George Clymer, 19 Jul 77).
61. JCC, 7:292-94 (23 Apr 77).
Danbury, Connecticut, in the course of which numerous storehouses containing pork, beef, wheat, clothing, and tents were burned.
Congress took action to ensure that other stores were not lost in such forays. It directed that salted pork and beef stored at Derby, Salisbury, Canaan, and Sharon in Connecticut were to be moved to Ulster County, New York, and placed in magazines twenty miles from the Hudson. Flour magazines also were to be established there along with 1,000 head of cattle purchased in the eastern states. The intent was to provide Washington's army with provisions if it had to march northward on the western side of the Hudson should the British penetrate into the country by that river. If the army crossed the river, it could be supplied from Connecticut and Massachusetts.62
Background for Valley Forge
Although the complete breakdown of transportation and the failure by Congress to appoint promptly an active Quartermaster General were fundamental factors in promoting the distressing conditions at Valley Forge, Congress' insistence on reorganizing the Commissary Department in the midst of the 1777 campaign and the shortcomings of the department were contributing causes. The shortage of food at Valley Forge has to be understood in terms of subsistence supply developments in the six months preceding the encampment of the troops there.
When Congress enacted its regulatory measure for the Commissary Department at the beginning of the 1777 campaign, it had no intention of replacing the department's directing personnel. It intended to end the payment of commissions to purchasing commissaries and to prescribe the use of procedures that would eliminate abuses. The net effect, however, was to bring about the resignation of Trumbull and his deputy commissaries at the very time maneuvers were beginning in New Jersey. Subsistence supply of the troops therefore had to be conducted under the administration of a new and inexperienced Commissary General of Purchases who had limited powers and no control over the appointment of his deputies or of their assistants. Not surprisingly, subsistence supply deteriorated progressively during 1777.
Before Trumbull left his post on 16 August, he prepared an estimate for his successor not only of the provisions on hand at various magazines in the Middle Department but also of those at deposit points in the Eastern, Northem, and Southern Departments. That estimate showed considerable stocks of flour at such places as Carlisle, York, Downington (formerly Milltown), Lancaster, and Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and at Trenton and Newton in
62. (1) Ibid., 7:315-17 (30 Apr 77). (2) See Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 8:4-5 (to Brig Gens Alexander McDougall and George Clinton, 2 May 77); 15-16 (to Samuel Gray, 3 May 77).
New Jersey. Various quantities of salted provisions, hard bread, fish, rum, soap, and candies also had been deposited at various places in the Middle Department. Charles Stewart, who as Commissary General of Issues had received these supplies, later estimated that the amount of meat and fish received was equal to 8 1/2 days' supply, and that of flour, "if merchantable," to 120 1/2 days' supply for the Continental Army. He reported, however, that some of the flour was damaged and had been condemned as unfit for issue or for baking into hard bread. Furthermore, the biscuits were stale, the Indian meal musty, and the fish bad.63
Upon Ephraim Blaine, deputy commissary general of purchases in the Middle Department, fell the responsibility for directing subsistence support for Washington's army. While Blaine supplemented the stores received by procuring fresh meat supplies, he also had to supervise the removal of subsistence stores from the path of the British. Some stores were removed from Head of Elk, but when the British arrived on 28 August, they found that the inhabitants had fled, leaving "some of their Store houses full, consisting of molasses, Indian Corn, Tobacco, Pitch, Tar and some Cordage and Flour."64 Uncertainty regarding the destination of the British undoubtedly had delayed an early and more thorough removal of all public and private stores. The Commissary Department as well as Congress made frantic efforts to preserve supplies in adjacent areas. On 22 August Congress had recommended that the authorities in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia remove all provisions, as well as military stores, boats, wagons, and horses, from the path of the enemy and destroy what could not be removed. About a week later Blaine directed his agent at Wilmington, Delaware, to exert his utmost abilities to remove stores "from the neighborhood of Elk."65
Subordinates could not always be depended upon, however, to carry out instructions. Ordered to remove all cattle pastured on the islands in the Delaware River and on the adjacent mainland, one agent instead sold approximately 100 head of cattle to British commissaries and contracted to provide more for Maj. Gen. William Howe's army, at a time when American supplies were becoming increasingly short. The Board of War claimed that many inhabitants of Chester County, Pennsylvania, had supplied provisions to the enemy and that without such assistance the British would have found it more difficult to capture Philadelphia.66 As the British pressed forward, large subsistence stocks that had been accumulated under Trumbull's direction had
63. (1) Washington Papers, 53:83 (Trumbull to Buchanan, 8 Aug 77). (2) For accounts of stores received in August and September 1777, see RG 11, CC Papers, item 155, 1:415, 419.
64. (1) Capt John Montressor, "The Montressor Journals," New-York Historical Society Collections, 1881, p. 443 (entry for 28 Aug 77). (2) Bernhard A. Uhlendorf and Edna Vosper, eds., Lettersfrom Major Baurmeister to Colonel von Jungkenn (Philadelphia, 1937), pp. 3, 4.
65. (1) JCC, 8:667. (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (to Zeb Hollingsworth, 30 Aug 77).
66. (1) Ibid. (to Ludwig Karcher, 9 Sep 77; John Chaloner to Blaine, 2 Oct 77). (2) Pennsylvania Archives, I st set., 5:686 (Bd of War to Pres Wharton, 18 Oct 77).
to be moved from Philadelphia. On 16 September Congress requested Pennsylvania to take action and called on all chiefs of supply departments to cooperate in the removal of stores. On the following day it authorized Washington to impress within a seventy-mile radius of camp whatever provisions were necessary for subsisting his army.67
At the same time, Blaine was energetically directing other preparations. He ordered coopers to make barrels for packing beef and pork; engaged bakers to bake hard bread at Lancaster, Reading, and Lebanon; and solicited tallow chandlers to enter into contracts for supplying soap and candles. The constant movement of Washington's army made supply very difficult, however, and despite his efforts the army on occasion lacked provisions. Washington complained that as a consequence his plans were impeded, though he was undecided whether the supply failures were attributable to "a fault" in the constitution of the Commissary Department or to "an unpardonable neglect in the Executive part."68
Having completed his initial preparations, Blaine thought the troops were well supplied with flour, beef, and rum but conceded that daily complaints were made to Washington. He admitted that some of the issuing commissaries neglected to apply for proper supplies and were wasteful in the issues they made. Nonetheless, he felt no hesitancy in leaving camp for ten days late in September, particularly since he had assigned John Chaloner the duty of permanent residence at headquarters where, he could be responsive to Washington's needs. Blaine intended to go home to Carlisle, arrange for the regulation of Commissary affairs at Fort Pitt, which he considered to be within the Middle Department, and obtain some cattle for the army."69
When Commissary General William Buchanan reported to the Board of War on 2 October, he was optimistic about the meat supply. The Commissary Department, he stated, had 3,000 head of cattle in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to supply Washington's army. In addition, it could, if necessary, draw a large number of cattle from Connecticut to that county. However, Chaloner, serving with the main army, had a different view of the supply situation. To defend Philadelphia, Washington's army had been reinforced with militia. These reinforcements were swelling ration requirements, and "upwards of 800 head of Cattle per week" were being consumed, he wrote Blaine on 3 October. He complained that his stock on hand would soon be exhausted. Other supplies were also falling short of demand. The troops required forty hogsheads of whiskey a week, and there was "much murmuring" about insufficient supply. The Commissary Department needed 400 barrels of flour a week from Lancaster, Reading, and York, but the farmers were not
67. JCC, 8:748, 752-53 (16 and 17 Sep 77).
68. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:238 (to Pres of Cong, 19 Sep 77); 336 (to Maj Gen Israel Putnam, 8 Oct 77).
69. Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (to Buchanan, 24 Sep 77).
delivering that amount because they feared their wagons would be detained indefinitely at camp once deliveries were made. In mid-October Chaloner reported that he was down to the last drove of the cattle that had been gathered at Wilmington. So gloomy were the prospects of supplying the army that in panic he begged Blaine to "delay not one moment" in coming to camp to remedy the "impending Evil."70
Blaine returned promptly and spurred his purchasers into renewed activity. Using the authority granted by Congress, he ordered them to seize cattle, salt, and rum if they could not be purchased on reasonable terms. Despite his exertions, he feared his efforts would prove to be ineffectual in supplying the army. An estimate that he made toward the end of October disclosed that the beef available in his department would last no more than two months. He was discouraged by daily disappointments and hourly complaints and dismayed by the exhaustion of food supplies in the Middle Department. Convinced, too, that the procurement and forwarding of meat supplies were being neglected in the Eastern Department, and alarmed by the effect that failure would have on his standing as a merchant, Blaine hinted at resignation.71
Suspension of Meat Procurement
Blaine had ample reason for concern about meat supply, both fresh and salted, in the Middle Department. Heavy consumption of cattle by the main army during the past two years in Pennsylvania and New Jersey had made beef scarcer in any case, but now the British threatened the area where cattle raising was largely centered. Moreover, the enemy was in possession of the Delaware River and had cut the line of communications with Virginia, from which state a considerable supply of barreled pork and bacon had been shipped in the past. The Commissary General of Purchases had anticipated that an ample beef supply would be forwarded from the Eastern Department. From August to November of 1777, however, all purchases of cattle in Connecticut had come to a halt because of the failure to complete the organization of the Commissary Department. Not until October did the Continental Congress amend some of the more restrictive features of the new regulation, thereby meeting objections raised by Peter Colt, who had been appointed deputy commissary general of purchases in the Eastern Department in August but who had not immediately agreed to take the position. It was with considerable relief that Blaine learned finally of Colt's acceptance of his appointment. Blaine quickly recommended that Colt purchase all the good cattle that he
70. (1) Ibid. (Chaloner to Blaine, 3 and 14 Oct 77; Chaloner to Buchanan, I I Oct 77). (2) According to Washington, the strength of his army was 8,000 Continentals plus 3,000 militia at Pennypacker's Mill. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 9:278 (to Pres of Cong, 28 Sep 77).
71. (1) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (to Thomas Huggins, 15 Oct 77; to Joseph Hugg, 18 Oct 77; to John White, 23 Oct 77; to Buchanan, 28 Oct 77). (2) JCC, 8:752 (17 Sep 77).
could. He wanted 400 head weekly, and on 18 November he called on Colt to get the first droves on their way within a few days.72
Even if Colt had been on hand and prepared to procure this supply immediately, it scarely could have arrived in time to satisfy the army's urgent need. By 16 December 1777 the advance troops of Washington's army had reached Valley Forge, and the main force arrived three days later. Shortly thereafter Washington wanted to send out some troops to oppose a British foraging party, but the men were unable to move for lack of provisions. He then learned from the only purchasing commissary in camp that "he had not a single hoof of any kind to Slaughter" and not more than twenty-five barrels of flour. Washington sent out a foraging party, but the country was so drained that this action afforded "a very triffle," and impressment efforts had to be extended a greater distance from camp. As Christmas Day dawned, the troops were still in tents at Valley Forge, and the general cry of the soldiers was "No Meat! No Meat!"73
The Commissary Department was in no better position to provide salted meats than fresh beef. In November 1777 when Colt and his purchasing commissaries in the Eastern Department were finally ready to act, Maj. Gen. William Heath informed the Commander in Chief that no preparations were under way to salt provisions in that department. Greatly alarmed, Washington informed Congress of the situation and called for an explanation from Commissary General Buchanan. The latter had been attentive to his duties, but under the regulation of 1777 he had not been able to appoint assistant purchasing deputies in the Eastern Department for that power was a prerogative of the deputy commissary general of purchases in that department. On the other hand, Buchanan had not been aggressive in getting his department organized. He was also seemingly unaware of the extent to which the deterioration of Commissary affairs in the Eastern Department had affected supply. His estimate of the supply situation late in October had been most optimistic.74
Both he and Blaine, however, were aware that the season for salting pork was well advanced. Anticipating the need, Blaine had already seized salt imported at Egg Harbor as well as supplies that had been deposited elsewhere in the Middle Department, but his efforts had yielded only a small quantity in comparison with what the army needed. Most imported salt had been deposited in magazines in New England. In October Buchanan had evolved a plan to haul salt from those magazines to the Hudson River and to exchange it there for flour from the Middle Department. The proposed plan lagged
72. Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (Blaine to Colt, 18 Nov 77).
73. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10:193-94 (to Pres of Cong, 23 Dec 77); 205 (GO, 25 Dec 77). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (to pres and council of Pa., 24 Dec 77). (3) Waldo, "Diary," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 21:309.
74. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of' Washington, 10:16, 23 (to Buchanan, 6 Nov 77; to Pres of Cong, 8 Nov 77). See also his orders to Putnam and Heath, 9:487-88; 10:3 (1 and 4 Nov 77). (2) Washington Papers, 60:98 (Buchanan to Washington, 12 Nov 77). (3) RG 11, CC Papers, item 29, 1:97 (Buchanan to Gerry et al., 20 Oct 77).
VALLEY FORGE: A FORAGING PARTY
badly. Over a month later Commissary General of Issues Stewart informed Samuel Gray, his deputy in the Eastern Department, that about fifty wagons, each carrying six or seven barrels of flour, would set out for New Windsor, New York, where he expected Gray to have salt ready for exchange early in December. Other teams were to follow in sufficient number to transport 10,000 to 12,000 bushels of salt, but Stewart feared that there would be much delay because of the difficulties in obtaining wagons and teams. His fears were well grounded, for two months later John Chaloner at Valley Forge had still not received any salt.75
Competitive Measures for Flour Supply
As the campaign of 1777 came to an end, with the British in possession of Philadelphia and the main Continental army soon to be encamped at Valley Forge, the amount of flour on hand was exceedingly low. In October Buchanan had rashly claimed "wheat enough & to spare to furnish the Army with Bread for two years." One month later he reported that there were only two flour magazines in the Middle Department-one at York and the other at Lancaster-and that these stocks would soon be exhausted, for Washington's army was consuming flour at the rate of about 200 barrels a day. He had little hope of obtaining more, since Pennsylvania farmers refused to thresh their wheat. Chaloner had reported that he could obtain flour from nearby millers only by
75. (1) Ibid. (2) JCC, 8:829-31 (22 Oct 77). (3) Stewart Correspondence (to Gray, 23 Nov 77; Gray to Stewart, 5 Dec 77). (4) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (Chaloner to Blaine, 26 Jan 78).
assigning a guard to keep them at work, and even then they produced no more than eight barrels a day.76
With flour supply so precarious, a congressional committee on 24 November recommended that the Commissary General of Purchases follow the advice given by Quartermaster General Thomas Mifflin to rent 12 or more mills within 6 miles of camp; to purchase and, if necessary, to impress wheat in the sheaf; and to obtain a detail of 150 men from the army to compel unwilling farmers to thresh the wheat. This procedure, the committee maintained, would yield an immediate supply and allow time, to. build up magazines containing three months' supply of flour at Pottsgrove, Reading, Lancaster, and elsewhere in the Middle Department. By that time, the committee expected, the newly reorganized Board of War would take over supervision of commissary affairs and direct preparations for the next campaign.77
In September Washington had charged that his army's movements were, impeded by the lack of provisions. In November he enlarged on the theme.
Experience has already evinced, in the Commissarial Line, a change which has embarrassed the movements of this Army exceedingly. I will not charge it to the measure, nor the Men, but the time it happened. This, however, with truth I can say, that we seldom have more than a day or two's Provisions before hand; and often as much behind, both of Meat and Bread. It can be, no difficult matter, therefore, under these circumstances, for you, or any other Gentleman, to conceive how much the movements of an Army are clogged and retarded.78
Approving of the advice offered by its committee, Congress decided to supplement Buchanan's supply efforts with measures of its own. It began by appointing a committee of five to devise ways and means for providing a sufficient supply of provisions for the troops. On the recommendation of that committee, Congress resolved to send a committee to Lancaster to confer with the Pennsylvania General Assembly on the best means of providing immediate supplies and establishing sufficient magazines of flour and pork for the main army in the Middle Department. Congress directed the members of the committee to inform the assembly of the need for flour and pork barrels and for teams to transport salt from the Hudson River.
Growing more alarmed, Congress proceeded to appoint another committee of five to evaluate the situation in. those counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware that bordered on the enemy's position or were in the neighborhood of Washington's army. It ordered this committee to report on the most effectual measures for subsisting the army and distressing the enemy.79 On the basis of this committee's report, Congress adopted a
76. (1) JCC, 9:960-62 (24 Nov 77). (2) RG 11, CC Papers, item 29, 1:97 (Buchanan to Gerry et al., 20 Oct 77). (3) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (Chaloner to Buchanan, 5 Nov 77).
77. JCC, 9:960-62 (24 Nov 77).
78. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10:81-82 (to Richard Henry Lee, 18 Nov 77).
79. JCC, 9:976 - 77 (28 Nov 77); 10 10 - 11 (8 Dec 77).
number of resolutions on 10 December 1777. It had observed with much concern, Congress informed Washington, that since the loss of Philadelphia his army had been drawing its principal supplies from distant quarters at great expense to the government. While his troops were scantily supplied and his magazines greatly reduced, large quantities of cattle, provisions, and forage still remained in the counties of Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester. Congress expected that Washington would endeavor, as much as possible, to subsist his army from those areas, even if he had to seize the products from the farmers. It had granted him such authority in resolutions of 17 September and 14 November. Congress could only attribute his reluctance to use that power to a "delicacy in exerting military authority on the citizens of these states," which was highly laudatory but might prove destructive to his army and the liberties of America. It directed him not only to seize all stock and provisions but also to issue a proclamation requiring all persons within seventy miles of headquarters to thresh their grain within a reasonable period of time or have it seized and paid for as straw. To give effectiveness to the proclamation, Congress recommended that Pennsylvania enact implementing legislation.80 These measures added little to the food supply for the main army, whose advance forces reached Valley Forge six days later.
Though reluctant to incite ill-will toward military power by an undue exercise of it, Washington resorted to impressment as recommended by Congress in view of the desperate situation that faced the army at Valley Forge. On 20 December he issued the proclamation to compel threshing. He had little faith, however, in the effectiveness of impressment and was convinced that the army's lack of provisions was a result of reorganizing the Commissary Department in the midst of a campaign. He stressed this one cause without taking into account the breakdown in transportation. The parties that Washington detached to impress provisions brought in 700 head of cattle, but the supply of flour was exhausted. There were deposits of flour at Lancaster, York, and Wright's Ferry, but there was a lack of wagons to haul the flour to camp. The best that Deputy Commissary General Blaine could do was to appeal to the state authorities to assist quartermasters in providing teams.81
The use of coercive measures to obtain supplies was thoroughly distasteful to Washington and was intensely disliked by the people. Washington repeatedly pointed out that impressment brought relief for the moment but had the most pernicious consequences. It spread disaffection and jealousy among the people, and even in veteran armies, under rigid discipline, it promoted "a disposition to licentiousness, plunder, and Robbery" that was hard to suppress. As one Pennsylvania citizen informed that state's
80. Ibid., 9:1013-15 (10 Dec 77). See also 8:751-53 (17 Sep 77); 9:905 (14 Nov 77).
81. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10:159-60 (to Pres of Cong, 15 Dec 77); 175 (proclamation, 20 Dec 77). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (to Pa. Executive Council, 24 Dec 77).
Executive Council, impressment parties, "under the Shadow of the Bayonet & the appellation Tory," wantonly wasted and destroyed grain and cattle. They lacked the wisdom to exercise good judgment even in their own interests. He also reported the confiscation of provisions and forage essential to the maintenance of his laboring force and to the operation of his forge and furnace. Work was thus brought to a standstill in the manufacture of the very products badly needed by the army.82 It is not surprising that farmers vowed not to plow or sow if impressment continued, or that they hid supplies from search parties. Blaine, who had left camp for Lancaster, York, and Carlisle on 26 December to obtain provisions, had little success in purchasing or seizing supplies.
With some satisfaction Blaine informed Chaloner on 4 January 1778 that the purchasing commissaries were to be relieved of a part of their burden. The Pennsylvania General Assembly was appointing two commissioners in each county to obtain all provisions necessary for the army at prices fixed by the assembly. Chaloner, who again had been left in camp as the sole representative of a department that was in complete disgrace, felt that he could stand "the torrent no longer." He sourly replied that if the army could not be supplied by purchasing agents appointed by Blaine and accountable to him, it could scarcely be supported by men over whom Blaine had no control.83
Chaloner was wrong in his assumption. The state commissioners were so successful in their efforts that President Thomas Wharton informed the Pennsylvania delegates in Congress that magazines could be filled "with great expedition" provided that Congress gave the commissioners the money to purchase all the necessary provisions. Familiar with the people and problems of the counties to which they were appointed, these state agents were able to obtain wheat more readily than Blaine's commissaries. Moreover, under the assembly's orders they were able to offer prices that were considerably higher than what the Continental agents had been able to offer. Wharton now found "an earnest zeal in the people to forward this business." With the higher prices and with a water level high enough to keep the mills at work, the farmers were again threshing grain and grinding it into flour. Wharton thought advantage ought to be taken of the changed conditions.84
These bright prospects were dimmed, however, by the confusion caused by a lack of coordination between the Continental Congress and the state legislature. Aware that Washington had been detailing detachments of soldiers to thresh grain in order to prevent a complete exhaustion of the army's supply of flour, Congress itself now took action to promote the procurement
82. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10:253-54 (to Bd of War, 2-3 Jan 78). (2) Pennsylvania Archives, 1st set., 6:170-71 (John Lesher of Oley to Wharton, 9 Jan 78).
83. Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (to Chaloner, 4 Jan 78).
84. Pennsylvania Archives, 1st set., 6:231-32 (to Pa. delegates in Cong, 3 Feb 78).
of flour.85 In January 1778 it authorized the Board of War to employ commissioners to purchase 30,000 barrels of flour or an equivalent amount of wheat to be ground into flour. They were to deposit the flour in Pennsylvania as follows: 12,000 barrels at Lancaster, 8,000 at Reading, 6,000 at Bethlehem, 2,000 at Downington, and 2,000 at Pottsgrove. The commissioners, like the regularly appointed commissaries of the Continental Army, were given full power to employ all necessary mills, millers, and coopers. Moreover, Congress empowered them to hire or impress all wagons needed to transport the flour to the depositories, paying the same rate for the wagons as the Quartermaster's Department paid. The Board of War was to limit these prices so that they in no way contravened those set by the state of Pennsylvania. Once the commissioners established magazines, the latter were to be put under the direction of the Commissary General of Issues. The commissioners also had authority to purchase any cattle or salted meat that they learned about on their tours through the country. Aware that two sets of purchasing agents were already in the field, that is, the regularly appointed Army commissaries and the state commissioners, and that a third group might promote confusion, Congress advised the Board of War to put the proposed plan into effect only if the state program was likely to prove inadequate to meet Washington's needs.86
Without considering the adequacy of the state program, the Board of War concluded that the plan ought to be put into effect at once. It appointed nine superintendents to purchase flour, wheat, and other articles.87 It provided them with detailed instructions, which included authority to direct the Pennsylvania commissioners in their purchases. Contravening the regulatory legislation enacted by Congress in June 1777, the board provided the superintendents as well as the state commissioners with a 2 1/2 percent commission on their disbursements. Congress made funds available to set up the magazines. It issued a warrant for 200,000 dollars in favor of the Board of War, and it ordered 300,000 dollars transmitted to President Wharton of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania.88
Three of the superintendents-Robert Lettis Hooper, Nathaniel Falconer, and Jonathan Mifflin-promptly went into action upon learning of their appointments. Meeting in Reading, they formulated instructions for millers,
85. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10:268 (to Pres of Cong, 5 Jan 78); 205 (GO, 25 Dec 77).
86. JCC, 10:54-57 (15 Jan 78).
87. The Board of War appointed Robert Lettis Hooper to a district embracing Northampton County in Pennsylvania and Sussex in New Jersey; assigned Jonathan Mifflin and Nathaniel Falconer to Berks, Bucks, and Philadelphia Counties in Pennsylvania; and employed Richard Bache, John Patton, Henry Hollingsworth, and James Read in Lancaster and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania, the northern parts of the western shore of Maryland, the eastern shore of Maryland, and Delaware. All these superintendents operated east of the Susquehanna River. It assigned the area west of the river to James Ewing and John Byers.
88. (1) RG 11, CC Papers, item 27, fols. 51-53 (Bd of War in supts, 31 Jan 78). (2) JCC, 10: 113, 151 - 52 (3 and 12 Feb 78).
and by 11 February they had employed four mills. Their plans called for a rapid expansion of operations throughout their districts. Hooper was also a deputy quartermaster general, and outgoing Quartermaster General Mifflin, then at his home in Reading, gave the three commissioners directions to buy all the forage they could-rye, spelts, Indian corn, and oats-at prices set by him at levels considerably higher than those that had been established by the states. Deputy Commissary General Blaine had misgivings about the purchase of wheat and forage by the same agents. Nine-tenths of all the forage coming to camp, he charged, was chopped wheat, and a continuance of that practice would result in famine. He told a congressional committee at camp that the Commissary General of Purchases ought to have the entire direction of the purchase of wheat.89
Conflicts among three sets of purchasing agents operating in the same area were inevitable. At least some members of Congress thought the state commissioners were capable of establishing the proposed magazines and that the Board of War's instructions not only in some respects interfered with the powers of the state commissioners. under the laws of Pennsylvania but also directed the purchase of a greater quantity of provisions than had been authorized by the resolution of Congress. Although such opinions were expressed, Congress formally sanctioned the additional provisions that the Board of War had ordered its superintendents to procure, although it directed that the latter be instructed to avoid clashing with the state commissioners. 90
When word reached Congress, however, that superintendents Mifflin, Falconer, and Hooper were purchasing forage at higher prices than authorized by Pennsylvania, it at once suspended them from their posts. This action did not still all complaints, for conflict continued between the remaining superintendents and the state commissioners. This time the controversy involved the superintendents operating on the west side of the Susquehanna River who, despite orders to the contrary, were competing with the state commissioners in the procurement of the same commodities. The Board of War declared that it was only carrying out the orders of Congress; it disclaimed any intent to interfere in state matters, and confessed it would gladly be rid of the whole business. The board informed Congress that as a result of the conflict all procurement of flour by the superintendents on the west side of the Susquehanna had been suspended. About seven weeks later, on 17 April 1778, this whole procurement episode came to an end when Congress requested Pennsylvania to call a halt to any more purchases by its state commissioners.91 It expected a reorganized Commissary Department to direct future procurement programs.
89. RG 11, CC Papers, item 27, fols. 62-63 (Hooper, Mifflin, Falconer to Bd of War, I I Feb 78); 59-61 (instructions to millers); 67-68 (Hooper, Falconer, Mifflin to Bd of War, 14 Feb 78); 71-72 (Hooper to assistants, 12 Feb 78); item 33, fol. 161 (Blaine to Francis Dana, 20 Feb 78).
90. JCC, 10: 152-53 (12 Feb 78); 166-70 (14 Feb 78).
91. (1) Ibid., 10: 176-77 (17 Feb 78); 361 (17 Apr 78). (2) Pennsylvania Archives, 1st ser., 6:315 (Gen Gates to Laurens, 26 Feb 78).
Factors Hampering Meat Supply
If flour supply showed improvement by early spring, the prospects of any improvement in meat supply continued unpromising. On 4 January 1778 Chaloner had reported from Valley Forge that he had "not one live Beast in Camp" and added that the army "on this day will consume the whole of the salt provisions Fish &c and God only knows what will be for the troops tomorrow." The resources of the Middle Department were nearly exhausted and supplies from the Eastern Department were likely to fall below expectations. When Deputy Commissary General Colt had assumed direction of purchasing in that department in November, he had ordered his assistants "to push forward Beef Cattle" for the troops. However, the lateness of the season and the utter lack of money greatly hindered his efforts. The suspension of cattle purchases in the Eastern Department from August through October 1777 had created a real scarcity of meat by 1778. Informed that the department would purchase no more cattle, farmers had neglected to fatten their animals or had sold them. Colt forwarded all available cattle, but his supply efforts were further hampered by the fact that Jacob Cuyler, the deputy commissary general of purchases in the Northern Department, was procuring cattle and hogs in the same area upon which Colt depended despite the fact that Cuyler had a meat-producing county in his own department in which to make purchases.92
To the shortage of fresh meat was added that of salted provisions. Less pork had been barreled than in previous years. Responsible also for subsisting the prisoners of war and the troops in the Eastern Department, Colt urged Blaine to lessen his demand for meat from that department by obtaining supplies for the main army from the southern states. Chaloner had hit upon the same method of obtaining relief, and Buchanan laid before the Board of War proposals for procuring provisions from North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. These provisions were to be forwarded along an inland route from Albemarle Sound to the head of the Chesapeake Bay, using boats and wagons. He estimated that 55 wagons could carry about 500 barrels of pork a week. Congress endorsed the plan in January 1778 and called on the governors of those states to cooperate by furnishing the required transportation. On his part, Blaine proposed to reduce the amount of beef and pork in the ration to twelve ounces and to increase the flour and bread allowance to one and a half pounds as a means of lessening meat consumption. Completely discouraged by the situation, Blaine asked Buchanan to replace him.93
Colt's troubles in supplying cattle to the main army multiplied. Though he forwarded several droves of cattle, they were unable to pass the Hudson
92. Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (unsigned, undated letter, but clearly Chaloner to Buchanan, ca. 4 Jan 78).
93. (1) JCC, 10:62-63 (19 Jan 78). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (to Washington, 20 Jan 78).
River and were consumed by the troops on the east side, "contrary to his orders & Expectations." Washington thereupon wrote to Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam early in February 1778 that "for the future, I beg you will consider it as explicitly contrary to my intentions that any Cattle ordered for the use of this Army should be stopt [short] of their destination." As Washington pointed out, Putnam had a ready substitute in salted provisions, an ample store of which was within his reach. Emphasizing that his army was on the brink of dissolution for lack of meat, Washington at the same time appealed to Governor Jonathan Trumbull to have the purchasing agents in Connecticut forward cattle to the army.94
In mid-February 1778 Blaine's reports to Washington showed that while he had flour available, he had barely sufficient meat to maintain the main army through that month. Accepting a suggestion made a month earlier by Blaine, Washington circulated an address to the inhabitants of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia that called on them to stall-feed as many of their cattle as they could spare so that they might be driven to the army by May. He promised a good price for the animals. Blaine hoped by this means to obtain some 5,000 to 6,000 head of cattle when the new campaign opened. Washington also sent out spirited appeals for assistance to the governors of the neighboring states.95
In mid-February Washington also wrote to Henry Champion, whom Governor Trumbull had appointed to superintend all purchase of livestock in that state, to come to the relief of the main army. Champion responded by calling Washington's attention to the impact that a price-fixing measure adopted by the Connecticut Assembly would have on cattle procurement. He feared that the law, which was to become effective on 20 March 1778, would cause an immediate scarcity of stall-fed beef.96 He had requested Commissary General Buchanan to lay the matter before Congress so that the price-fixing act might be suspended. He suggested that it might be well if the Commander in Chief also wrote to the Continental Congress.
Congress found itself in an embarrassing situation, for its own recommendation in November 1777 had led to a meeting at New Haven of commissioners from the New England states, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey to regulate the prices of commodities, labor, and manufactures. Congress felt that it could not now call for suspension of the Connecticut law and instead referred Champion's letter to the state's legislature with the
94. (1) Ibid. (Chaloner to Blaine, 26 Jan 78). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10:423 (to Putnam, 6 Feb 78); 423-24 (to Trumbull, 6 Feb 78).
95. (1) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (to Washington, 20 Jan 78; estimate, 14 Feb 78). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10:480-81 (address, 18 Feb 78); 469-70 (to Gov George Clinton, 16 Feb 78); 471-73 (to Gov Thomas Nelson, same date); 483-85 (to Gov Patrick Henry, 19 Feb 78).
96. (1) Ibid., 10:474 (to Champion, 17 Feb 78). (2) Washington Papers, 68:59 (Champion to Washington, 28 Feb 78).
recommendation that it take such actions as it judged best for the public interest. As Eliphalet Dyer explained to Governor Trumbull on 12 March, the delegates did not wish to give any directions that would interfere with the rights of any state legislature, but "they really wish, hope and expect that the Act, so far as it respects Salted Beef," would be suspended. Ruin would ensue unless "every Obstruction be removed to every possible supply of Beef till summer fed Cattle can be procured."97
While resolution of this problem hung fire, Congress appointed Jeremiah Wadsworth Commissary General of Purchases on 9 April 1778. He informed Congress at that time that he could not operate under the price-fixing act. Had he not been convinced that suspension of the act would take place immediately, he would not have accepted the appointment. It was 4 June, however, before Congress recommended the repeal or suspension of all state laws limiting, regulating, or restraining the price of any article, manufacture, or commodity.98
In mid-February 1778 the nearest magazines of the main army were located at Dover, New Jersey, and at Head of Elk, but such was the scarcity of wagons that provisions could not be brought to Valley Forge. No more than eight wagons were at camp, but ten times that number would not have been sufficient for transporting the rations required. To alleviate the shortage, Washington turned to impressment. He ordered Capt. Henry Lee and a small mounted force to undertake this mission and called upon Brig. Gen. William Smallwood to assist him.99 A month later the lack of transportation continued to hamper the Commissary Department. Provisions obtained in Maryland and Virginia had been transported by water to Head of Elk, but they remained there for lack of teams. State legislation imposed restrictions, too, that would have hampered transportation even if enough wagons had been obtainable. By law, for example, Maryland limited the use of wagons within the state to the transportation of the baggage of marching troops. Washington requested amendment of this law.100
Gradually the supply situation improved. The favorable responses of the state governors to Washington's appeal assisted materially. The weather
97. (1) JCC, 10:235, 244 (9 and I I Mar. 78). (2) Burnett, Letters, 3:125-26 (Dyer to Trumbull, 12 Mar 78).
98. (1) JCC, 11:569-70. (2) RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 23:503-04 (Wadsworth memorial to Conn. A ssembly, 26 May 78); 499 (Wadsworth to Pres of Cong, 27 May 78). (3) Washington Papers, 72:51 (Wadsworth to Washington, 4 Jun 78).
99. (1) During the last week in February, 15,903 rations per day were required by the army at camp. Allowing 140 rations per barrel and 8 barrels per wagon, over 113 wagons would be required. RG 11, CC Papers, item 155, 1:511 (Return of Provisions and Stores Issued to Army in Camp, 23 Feb-I Mar 78, inclusive). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777-78 (to Henry Hollingsworth, 15 Feb 78). (3) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 10:467-68 (to Lee, 16 Feb 78); 467 (to Smallwood, same date).
100. (1) Ibid., 12:123-24 (to Gov Johnson, 21 Mar 78). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1777 -78 (Chaloner to Lutterloh, 20 Mar 78; Chaloner to Washington, 21 Mar, 78).
became milder and wagoners were able to drive their teams to camp. Transportation generally was improved when Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene became head of the Quartermaster's Department and infused new vigor into its operations. By the first week in April 1778 Chaloner could report that the army at Valley Forge was fairly well supplied with beef, bread, and flour.101
Preparations Under Wadsworth
Shortly after Jeremiah Wadsworth was appointed Commissary General of Purchases on 9 April, he went to Valley Forge to provision the troops there and prepare for the coming campaign. There he received orders from Washington to provide for an army of at least 40,000. Taking into account staff, artificers, wagoners, and attendants, Wadsworth estimated that he would need to provide 60,000 rations per day, and he immediately set about making preparations. Flour could be provided in quantity by the southern states, but meat would have to come principally from Wadsworth's home state of Connecticut. Wadsworth returned to that state to make arrangements for obtaining an ample supply of meat for the troops, but he found that the assembly had not yet suspended its price-fixing law and, in fact, had sent a committee to Massachusetts to persuade it to adopt similar legislation. Congress' belated action in recommending suspension of all price-fixing legislation in June removed a major obstacle to his procurement program. On 8 June Congress acted to assist procurement in another way. Exportation of provisions by speculators not only had tended to raise prices, but, through the capture of vessels engaged in such trade, had contributed to the support of the enemy. Congress laid an embargo, effective from 10 June to 15 November, prohibiting the exportation of wheat, flour, rye, Indian corn, rice, bread, beef, pork, bacon, livestock, and other provisions. It recommended that the states take measures to implement the embargo.102
In the meantime, Washington was preparing to put his army in motion. He was well aware that many people in the spring of 1778 had grown impatient to see the British driven from Philadelphia. The depleted state of the magazines, however, and the necessity of allowing time to complete the reorganization of both the Quartermaster's and the Commissary Departments were adequate reasons for counseling caution. Washington thought a "capital Blow against the Enemy" might be made when a considerable force could be subsisted on grass-fed cattle. Though such pasturage was not yet available when intelligence reached him that the British meant to evacuate Philadelphia, he then called on Deputy Commissary General Blaine in mid May to lay in, as much as he was able, all available provisions along the
101. Ibid. (Chaloner to Buchanan, 5 Apr 78).
102. JCC, 11:578-79 (8 Jun 78).
thoroughly familiar route from Valley Forge-via Coryell's Ferry, Boundbrook, and Morristown-to the Hudson River.103
At Ringwood, New Jersey, Commissary General of Issues Stewart was also speeding preparations. Learning that cattle were in extremely short supply at Valley Forge, he urged Wadsworth to forward a supply promptly. New Jersey, he wrote to one of his agents, was "exhausted in the meat way," and it would be impossible "to pass the Army through it, without Bullocks come on very quickly from the Eastern States. " Stewart was having salted provisions brought forward as quickly as possible to the Hudson River by the quartermasters.104
Between 16 and 18 June 1778 the British evacuated Philadelphia, and on receipt of the news Washington marched his army toward Coryell's Ferry, completing the crossing of the Delaware by 23 June. Although provisions had been deposited with comparative ease along the route, troops complained of shortages as they moved to engage the enemy. Following the battle of Monmouth on 28 June and the British withdrawal to New York, the main army marched northward through New Jersey to Haverstraw on the west side of the Hudson, where it would be easier, Washington was informed, to provision the troops and forage the horses. There news of the arrival of Admiral d'Estaing's fleet off Sandy Hook led Washington to direct Wadsworth both to send a gift of livestock to the admiral and to offer assistance in victualing the fleet. Congress, too, instructed Wadsworth to furnish the fleet from time to time with such provisions as the Marine Committee directed.105
Flour for a Joint Venture
D'Estaing planned with Washington to launch a combined attack upon the British at Newport, Rhode Island. In anticipation of this move, Washington on 17 July directed Maj. Gen. John Sullivan, in command of 1,000 Continentals at Providence, to increase his strength by adding 5,000 militiamen from the New England states. He also ordered him to collect boats, engage pilots, establish magazines of provisions, and in general, to prepare for joint action with the French fleet.106 This first attempt at allied action demonstrated again the dangers of competitive supply operations. The sudden demand for large quantities of provisions for land and sea forces produced a temporary scarcity of some commodities. Wadsworth reported that meat could be readily provided but that flour was scarce. Even without the demand created by the presence of the French, a magazine of flour would have
103. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 11:371 (to Gov Johnson, 11 May 78); 408 (to Blaine, 17 May 78).
104. Stewart Correspondence, 1777-82 (to agent, 25 May 78).
105. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 12:182 (to Wadsworth, 15 Jul 78). See also 12:120n (Alexander Hamilton to Washington, 26 Jun 78); 167 (to Gen Gates, I I Jul 78). (2) JCC, 11:687 (13 Jul 78).
106. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 12:184 (to Sullivan, 17 Jul 78).
been essential in New England. Wadsworth suggested that the flour shortage, resulting from the difficulty of hauling that commodity overland, could be easily remedied. He argued that the presence of the French fleet in American waters afforded an opportunity to ship flour from Virginia by sea, and he directed Blaine to lay the matter before the Continental Congress for prompt action. A month went by without any word from Congress. By that time Wadsworth was in Philadelphia preparing to set out for Virginia with Blaine. He renewed his plea, emphasizing the impossibility of supplying the troops in the Eastern Department by land carriage. On 24 August 1778 Congress authorized the Commissary General of Purchases to procure 20,000 barrels of flour in Pennsylvania,, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia and, in conference with the Marine Committee, to arrange for its transportation by water.107
When Wadsworth and Blaine left Philadelphia for a tour of the southern states, they had hopes of procuring large quantities of provisions to supplement those available in New York. Their tour, however, quickly convinced them that their hopes were chimerical. Steadily rising prices met them everywhere. The arrival of the French fleet had helped to unleash a wave of profiteering that was further stimulated when Congress issued its order for the purchase of flour and its shipment by water. Wadsworth reported that the price of flour increased 25 percent when this news circulated at Baltimore. Early in September flour was selling there at 4 pounds per hundredweight, but neither farmers nor millers would make contracts with commissaries since they expected the price to go still higher. Wadsworth's hopes of getting good flour in Virginia were further dimmed by the news that the state's crop had been damaged by "the fly"108
Throughout Virginia and Maryland speculators were busy buying wheat and flour, and since they had ready money, no commissary could compete with them. Money was needed, Wadsworth wrote his agent in Philadelphia, to build up the stocks in magazines at Head of Elk and elsewhere that were far lower than he had expected. Unless measures were taken to stop the practices of the food monopolizers, he warned Congress in September, Washington's army would have to disband for lack of rations.109 Moreover, there was evidence that the embargo was being evaded, and he was convinced that vessels were being readied to sail with cargoes of provisions as soon as the embargo expired. He had also heard a rumor that permission had been granted to merchants to export flour from the southern states to New England. Provided this permission was not abused, such export could help the army, but Wadsworth was pessimistic. "Neither Oaths or Bonds can bind Men who are not govern'd by honour or Conscience and I believe the Enemy will obtain as much of the Flour shipp'd for New England as the people of these
107. (1) RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 23:513 (Wadsworth to Blaine, 23 Jul 78)-,.537 (Wadsworth to Henry Laurens, 24 Aug 78). (2) JCC, 11:831 (24 Aug 78).
108. RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 23:561 (Wadsworth to Laurens, 6 Sep 78).
109. Ibid., item 78, 23:557 (Wadsworth to Tracy, 4 Sep 78).
States," he informed Henry Laurens, "and that a greater quantity will go to the Islands; as a hard northerly will be an excuse to bear away from this Coast for the West Indies."110
Acting on the reports coming to it, Congress on 2 October recommended that the states direct the seizure for the public use of "any extraordinary quantity of grain or flour being purchased and in the possession of individuals" as a means of restraining the "wicked arts of the speculators, forestallers, and engrossers." The seized commodities were to be paid for at such prices as the states thought proper. Congress continued the embargo it had enacted earlier and again recommended that the states take measures to enforce it. It also provided safeguards for the shipment by sea of provisions from the southern states which it had exempted from the embargo on 2 September. It authorized the Commissary General of Purchases to dispatch, notwithstanding any earlier resolution of Congress, provision vessels to New England, with or without convoy, as his judgment dictated.111
In late September 1778 Washington had indicated that he wanted flour deposited in magazines at intervals on the inland line of communications between his headquarters at Fredericksburg (now Patterson), New York, and Boston. He added that he thought there would be a great risk in shipping it by sea while the British had a superior fleet on the coast.112 Actually, by the time Congress had authorized the procurement of 20,000 barrels of flour on 24 August, the Newport expedition had failed, and the French fleet had sailed for Boston to refit. The plan to ship flour by sea was therefore abandoned as too dangerous. Instead, Wadsworth had to continue using the slow overland routes.
Interference in Commissariat Matters
In preparing for the projected allied offensive against Newport, Wadsworth had initiated measures for concentrating provisions in Rhode Island and had delegated responsibility for supervising procurement to Royal Flint, an assistant commissary of purchases. Flint, Peter Colt, and Henry Champion devised various ways of accumulating the reserves requested by d'Estaing as well as the supplies needed by General Sullivan's forces. The latter, however, subsequently charged that to provision his forces he had been obliged to borrow supplies from the Marine Board in Connecticut, from the Navy Board in Boston, and from General Heath. Fearful that sufficient provisions would not be made available, he began to use his own agents to purchase supplies. The inevitable competition raised
110. Ibid., item 78, 23:569 (Wadsworth to Laurens, 29 Sep 78).
111. JCC, 12:861 (2 Sep 78); 974 - 79 (2 Oct 78).
112. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 12:490 (to Pres of Cong, 23 Sep 78). See also 12:505 (to Gen Gates, 26 Sep.,78).
prices and hampered supply for the Continental Army in general, according to the purchasing commissaries.
The close of the Rhode Island campaign did not bring an end to General Sullivan's supply activities. In fact, he broadened his efforts in October 1778 by ordering Lopez, Clark, and Nightengale, a merchant firm of Providence, to purchase flour. This firm sent out its agent, Peter Mumford, to procure flour in New York and ship it to Providence, thereby contravening a New York law forbidding the transportation of flour to any other state except by authority of the Commissary General of Purchases or by a special license from the governor. When the mischievous consequences of Mumford's efforts were called to the attention of Washington, he ordered an end to this procurement and directed General Sullivan never to engage in similar activities without first consulting him.113
Though General Sullivan acknowledged on 23 November that there was "a good man at the head of the Commissary Department," he insisted that many of the commissaries who had allowed the troops to starve the previous winter were still in service and had not mended their ways. Four days later he again denounced what he called the impudence and indolence of the commissaries whose false promises had led him to expect supplies from day to day until his stores were completely exhausted. Such was his wrath against the commissaries in the Eastern Department that he haled them before a military court of inquiry in March 1779. The court found the measures adopted by the general to be justified by necessity and "confirmed by Wisdom & prudence." The court further held that Colt and his purchasing commissaries had been "deficient in their duty," and that some had been too much governed by private interest. Since General Sullivan had appeared in person at the court and had demonstrated, in Wadsworth's view, "too great a 'mixture of Passion' with his proceedings" for him to be a proper judge, the Commissary General questioned the impartiality of these findings.114
If Sullivan's efforts had disturbed the orderly functioning of the Commissary Department, so too did the activities of the intendant of the French fleet. Unwilling to depend on the American Commissary Department for his supplies, he had entered into a private contract with James Price, whose agents operated not only in New England but also in New York. Since they offered prices at least 25 percent higher than those given by the American commissaries, the latter were handicapped in their efforts to obtain provisions. Deputy Commissary General Colt complained of these activities to General Heath, who extracted a promise from Price to stop procurement as
113. (1) Ibid., 13:277-78 (to Sullivan, 18 Nov 78). (2) John Sullivan, "Letters and Papers of Major General John Sullivan," ed. Otis G. Hammond, New Hampshire Historical Society Collections 14 (1931): 423 (Peter Colt to Sullivan, 6 Nov 78); 426-28 (Sullivan to Colt, 10 Nov 78).
114. (1) Ibid., 14:443-44, 446-47 (to Washington, 23 and 27 Nov 78). (2) Washington Papers, 99:40 (Court of Inquiry, I Mar 79); 100:87 (Wadsworth to Washington, 15 Mar 79).
soon as his existing contracts were fulfilled. In the meantime, John Holker, agent of the Marine of France, arrived in Boston and promised to put matters on a proper footing. Unfortunately, by that time prices had risen sharply, and it was not without some feeling of relief that the Americans saw the French fleet sail for Martinique in November.115
Transfer of Convention Troops
The transfer of the Convention troops from Boston to Charlottesville, Virginia, eased considerably the Commissary Department's task of accumulating magazines of provisions in the Northern and Eastern Departments. These British prisoners of war, taken when Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga, consumed vast quantities of supplies, but as long as the main Continental army was operating in the Middle Department, that consumption apparently went unnoticed. It immediately attracted attention, however, when the army moved toward New York and particularly when planning began for the Newport expedition. The shortage of flour in New England, the large number of teams required to haul provisions, and the enormous amount of forage they consumed suggested the desirability of reducing the demand for provisions in that area. Since the British would neither provide food for the captured prisoners nor grant passports for Continental ships to carry provisions to them, Congress decided to remove the Convention troops to Virginia, where they could be supplied with less difficulty. The first detachment of prisoners departed for Virginia on 4 November 1778. The transfer of the Convention troops and the departure of the French fleet led Wadsworth to entertain hopes that he might be able to replenish the magazines that had become thoroughly depleted in the months since the initiation of the Newport expedition. Any idea that he would be able to supply troops for a Canadian expedition, however, had to be abandoned.116
Washington's army now went into winter quarters in a semicircle around New York City with cantonments at Middlebrook and Elizabethtown, New Jersey, at West Point and Fishkill, New York, and at Danbury, Connecticut. Washington's objective was to guard the vital points of the Hudson Highlands and protect his line of communications between New England and the southern states. Quartering most of the troops west of the Hudson eased the problem of subsisting the army by reducing the distance that supplies had to be hauled. The difficulty and expense of transportation in the winter season and the, exhausted supply of forage in the country had induced both the Quartermaster General and the Commissary General of Purchases
115. Johnson, Administration of the American Commissariat During the Revolutionary War, pp. 148-49.
116. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 13:123 (to Heath, 22 Oct 78); 207 (to Col Theodorick Bland, 5 Nov 78); 319 (to Gates, 24 Nov 78).
to recommend the area west of the Hudson.117 The winter of 1778-79 brought none of the extremes of hardship that had been suffered by the troops at Valley Forge. Forage remained scarce, but food was available. The rate of depreciation, however, accelerated at such a pace that by April 1779 Washington wrote that "a waggon load of money will scarcely purchase a waggon load of provisions.118
Depreciation and Supply
The battle of Monmouth in June 1778 was the last important battle in the north during the Revolution. In the course of the next three years only minor operations occurred in that area, but the troops, even when inactive, still had to be provisioned, and criticism of the Commissary Department grew in volume. Delegates to Congress and the public both attributed the increased costs of the war and the plummeting depreciation of the country's currency to the practices of commissaries and quartermasters, who were widely suspected of raising prices to collect higher commissions. Congress was once again imbued with a reforming zeal as it tackled the complex problems of the supply departments.
While Congress sought solutions to its problems, the Commissary Department, greatly in debt and always in need of funds, attempted to operate on a credit basis but with increasingly poor results. By the end of September 1779 the quantity of flour and bread available for Washington's army was so small that Wadsworth evolved a plan for obtaining supplies from New York in exchange for salt, sugar, and other imported commodities needed by the people of that state, who had been deprived of the use of their major seaport for three years.119 The harvest of 1779 was good, but as the year drew to a close, the flow of supplies was diminishing and magazines were becoming empty.
If Congress blamed the supply departments for the depreciation of the Continental currency, the Commissary Department attributed its woes to its lack of funds. According to Royal Flint, insufficient cash had brought the shortages and had left the purchasing commissaries in heavy debt. The impact upon procurement was repeatedly made clear to Congress. Chaloner and John White informed a committee of Congress that there was no reason to believe that the commissaries could procure on a timely basis the food necessary for the troops because of the insufficiency of cash. "For want of Cash the Supplies of Flour from Hudsons River is retarded. The necessary measures for procuring Meat to the Southward neglected, and
117. Ibid., 13:350-52 (to Prcs of Cong, 27 Nov 78).
118. Ibid., 14:437 (to John Jay, 23 Apr 79).
119. (1) JCC, 15:1130-32 (30 Sep 79). (2) Burnett, Letters, 4:476 (Jesse Root to Wadsworth, 6 Oct 79).
nothing is yet done to procure the whole Supplies for the Garrisons to the Westward."120
Distress at Morristown
In the winter of 1779-80 Washington's army suffered both from a lack of food and from the extreme severity of the weather. The troops encamped at Morristown experienced conditions far worse than those endured by the soldiers at Valley Forge. In December the snow was reported to be two feet deep. By January, after a violent snowstorm, the snow was four to six feet deep. Roads were so obstructed that cattle could not move and wagons could not bring badly needed provisions. James Thacher, a surgeon with the army, recorded that the troops received only two pounds of meat per man for a 10-day period. Frequently they were entirely without meat for 6 or 8 days and often lacked bread for a week at a time.121 In their distress the soldiers plundered the neighboring inhabitants. Washington deplored this behavior but insisted he would find it increasingly difficult to stop it unless the local magistrates came to the army's aid. He appealed to them to collect designated quantities of cattle and grain within a specified number of days. The results allowed Washington to inform Congress by the last week in January that the army had been "for some days past, comfortable and easy on the score of provisions."122
This happy state did not last. Melting snows turned roads into quagmires. Even though there was some grain at distant mills in New Jersey, it could not be transported to camp; where in mid-March 1780, no more than five days' supply of bread was on hand for the troops. By a scanty and economical issue, Washington informed Congress, the meat supply might be made to last until about the end of April. Unfortunately, the situation was more desperate than he knew. The issuing commissary had miscalculated his supplies, basing his estimate on the number of casks rather than on the amount of meat they actually contained. As a consequence, on 7 April he had only enough meat to afford a meager supply for four days.123 The pattern of supply throughout these months was one of acute shortage temporarily relieved by the arrival of small quantities of provisions.
120. (1) Washington Papers, 120:83 (Flint to Wadsworth, 7 Nov 79). (2) RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 5:425 (Chaloner and White to committee, 24 Nov 79).
121. (1) Washington Papers, 124:68 (Flint to Washington, 3 Jan 80). (2) Thacher, Military Journal of the American Revolutionary War, pp. 181, 185.
122. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 17:362-65 (to N.J. magistrates, 8 Jan 80); 459-60 (to Pres of Cong, 27 Jan 80).
123. Ibid., 18:121-22 (to Pres of Cong, 17 Mar 80); 127-28 (to Bd of War, 7 Apr 80).
Return to the Table of Contents