From Commissaries to Contractors
The difficulties experienced in obtaining supplies for Washington's army in 1779-80 resulted from the deterioration of the country's finances. No farmer was willing to exchange his grain and livestock for a depreciated currency. Even before winter brought a crisis in supply, Congress, on 1 September 1779, had come to the decision to halt the issue of any more paper money. It decided to rely on state taxes and loans to prosecute the war. On 6 October Congress called on the states for their respective quotas of taxes to the amount of 15 million dollars a month, with payment to begin on 1 February 1780.1 Unfortunately, the states were not prepared to tax them selves or to create funds that they would not control. The cry for money came from every supply department in December, but there was neither money nor credit to replenish empty magazines. "Congress are at their wit's end," wrote William Ellery.2 But as the historian of the Continental Congress has pointed out, at such times some member inevitably would devise a plan that he believed would resolve all difficulties.3 If individuals could satisfy their needs by resorting to a system of barter, as they were doing to a certain extent, why could not Congress eliminate the use of money in the supply process by devising a method whereby the states furnished supplies directly to the Continental Army? There was no deficiency in the resources of the country; all that was needed was the proper means to draw supplies into public use.4
Certain features of the system of specific supplies had been anticipated in committee reports as early as July 1779. The committee appointed to regulate and retrench the expenses of the supply departments, for example, had proposed obtaining provisions and other supplies from the states by levying assessments in kind, designating the quotas of supplies to be obtained from each state. When the Board of War in November took over the functions formerly exercised by the committee for supervising the Quartermaster's and Commissary Departments, that committee's last report urged
1. JCC, 14:1013 (1 Sep 79); 1052 ff. (13 Sep 79); 15:1147 (6 Oct 79).
2. (1) Burnett, Letters, 4:545 (to gov of R.I., 21 Dec 79). (2) See also Fitzpatfick, Writings of Washington, 17:272 - 73 (to Pres of Cong, 15 Dec 79).
3. Burnett, The Continental Congress, p. 402.
4. Bumett, Letters, 5:6 (Pres of Cong to gov of Conn., 12 Jan 80).
that an estimate of needed supplies be prepared by the Commissary General of Purchases, on the basis of which Congress was to determine the quantity of provisions each state was to furnish. By specifically limiting procurement to purchasers licensed by the states, the committee proposed to eliminate the purchasing commissaries, whose commissions had aroused general suspicion. Congress took no immediate action on the report, but on 2 December it directed the Board of War to prepare an estimate of supplies needed for 1780.5
To meet immediate needs, Congress on 11 December 1779 requested certain nearby states-Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Connecticut-to furnish the Continental Army with designated quantities of flour and corn, some supplies to be delivered at once and others by the first of April. Three days later it made this system of requisitions applicable to all the states, with the promise that the specific supplies furnished by a state would be credited toward the quota of money that it was called upon to raise in taxes for the United States. Congress anticipated that if the necessary provisions could be obtained in this way, many purchasing agents of the Commissary Department could be dismissed.6 The general statement of 14 December, however, had to be broken down into details before the system of specific supplies could be put into effective operation. This complicated task required extensive knowledge of the existing and probable future supplies in the states. It necessitated matching the requirements of the Continental Army with the supplies that the states could make available after meeting their own needs, while proportioning the burden equitably among the states. To expedite the program, Congress on 17 December appointed a committee of five to estimate the supplies that would have to be procured for the use of the Continental Army during the following year and to determine the quantities and kinds of supplies that each state would be required to furnish as its quota.7 At the same time, it resolved that when the legislature of any state undertook to procure its quota of the required supplies, all purchase of such articles by commissaries and quartermasters in that state would be discontinued.
The innumerable adjustments involved in working out the details of the system offered opportunities for endless discussion among the delegates, and it was almost the end of February 1780 before they reached agreement. Congress then approved specific quotas of beef, pork, flour, rum, salt, forage, and marketable tobacco, apportioned among the states according to their resources. The states were to collect these quotas and deliver them to such places within their boundaries as the Commander in Chief designated.
5. JCC, 14:872-80 (23 Jul 79); 15:1311-12 (25 Nov 79); 1342-43 (2 Dec 79).
6. (1) Ibid., 15:1371-72 (11 Dec 79); 1377-78 (14 Dec 79). (2) Bumett, Letters, 4:535 (Pres of Cong to gov of N.J., 14 Dec 79).
7. JCC, 15:1391 (17 Dec 79).
Each state would receive credit at prices fixed by Congress for all commodities accepted, after inspection, for the use of the United States. All accounts between the states and Congress relating to their quotas were to be kept and paid in Spanish milled dollars. Any supplies furnished by a state above its quota were to be paid for at the prices fixed by Congress with interest at 6 percent; any deficiencies were to be charged to a state at the same fixed prices and interest rate. To provide the troops with fresh beef, the states were to furnish part of their meat quota in cattle, as directed by the Commissary General of Purchases.
In the months since the system first had been adopted in December, some states had supplied the Continental Army with provisions at the request of Congress. The latter ordered that such supplies be credited against the total quota assigned to the state. Finally, Congress excused the states from paying into the treasury two-thirds of the monies that they had been called upon to raise monthly by taxes under the resolution of 6 October 1779.8 Undoubtedly, it was with some relief that the members of Congress passed the vexatious problem of supply to the states, though not all were certain that the solution Would prove satisfactory. "I must Confess," John Collins wrote Quartermaster General Greene, "it appears to me like takeing a leap in the dark-and Crouding the Ship through a Strait amongst Rock and Shores in a thick fog. We may Run the Ship a Shoar [or] she may poke through."9
The adoption of this new system of supply was one phase of the reform effort. Congress also had to find some way of stabilizing the currency and obtaining the means for supporting another campaign. Stopping the printing presses had not halted the depreciation of the currency, which by March 1780 had reached the rate of sixty Continental dollars for one in specie at Philadelphia.10 On 18 March Congress adopted a measure that it hoped would bring order out of the financial chaos. The measure converted the 200 million dollars then in circulation into a real debt of 5 million dollars by providing that Continental bills would be accepted in payment of state quotas of taxes at a rate of forty for one and would be destroyed. To carry on the war; Congress proposed to issue new Continental currency, limited in quantity and secured against depreciation by specific funds provided by the states. The states thus would become the guarantors of a new federal currency. If any state, in consequence of the events of the war, became incapable of redeeming its proportion of the new bills, the latter were further secured by the fact that the United States guaranteed payment.11 Congress hoped the act would get a quick and favorable response, but the states, in
8. Ibid., 16:196-201 (25 Feb 80).
9. Burnett, Letters, 5:52-53 (26 Feb 80).
10. Ibid., 5:83 (Conn. delegates to gov of Conn., 20 Mar 80).
11. JCC, 16:262-67 (18 Mar 80).
large measure, failed to fulfill their parts in the program and the new bills depreciated as rapidly as the old.
Criticism of the System
After studying the resolution of 25 February, a number of supply officers concluded that the plan of depending upon the states for specific supplies would be a failure. Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene prepared a penetrating and thorough criticism of the inadequacies of the system.
The measure seems to be calculated more for the convenience of each state than for the accommodation of the service. The aggregate quantity ordered, tho' far short of the demands of the army, is proportioned on the states in such a manner, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to draw it into use: and this difficulty will increase as the scene of action may change, from one extreme of the Continent to another.12
Philip Schuyler shared Greene's views, and Washington confided to him that if some parts of the plan were literally adhered to, "ruin must follow."13 On the basis of Greene's criticism, and guided by an estimate of the provisions and forage required for 30,000 men for a year, Washington cautioned Congress in March 1780 that the state quotas it had established were inadequate. Military operations, he also advised, might require his army to obtain large quantities of food and forage in a state after it had already furnished its quota, but Congress had made no provision for such emergencies. Nor had any provision been made for the sale of supplies stored in places now far from military activity and therefore likely to go to waste. The most serious defect of the system, he concluded, was the failure to provide for the transportation of the supplies to the troops.14
It was mid-July 1780 before Congress corrected that oversight by making the Quartermaster's Department responsible for the storage and transportation of all public property including the specific supplies furnished by the states.15 Livestock, however, was a category apparently not included. To remedy this omission, Congress incorporated a provision in the act reorganizing the Commissary Department that states furnishing, livestock-at such times and in such quantities as the Commissary General of Purchases or the deputy commissary directed-were to make deliveries to storekeepers in each state. These storekeepers, appointed by the deputy quartermasters, were to be subject to the orders of the Commissary General of Purchases, to whom they were to make monthly returns of receipts and deliveries of livestock. "Scandalous impositions" had been suffered in state supplies,
12. Washington Papers, 132:32-34 (to Washington, n.d.).
13. (1) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 18:138 (22 Mar 80). (2) Bumett, Letters, 5:91 (Schuyler to Greene, 22 Mar 80).
14. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 18:152 - 57 (to Pres of Cong,, 26 Mar 80).
15. JCC, 17:616 (15 Jul 80).
Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering warned his deputies in calling this provision to their attention, and he advised them that Congress had authorized the storekeepers to reject any livestock that was deficient in quality.16 There was a serious flaw in this arrangement for handling livestock. Forage for the animals was not usually available at the places where storekeepers were located, nor did it follow that because they were able to handle merchandise and stores, the storekeepers would know how to estimate and forward cattle. Oliver Phelps, appointed by Massachusetts to superintend the purchase of beef in that state, protested that a regular supply of cattle could never be maintained under the provisions of this act.17
Indeed, the method of provisioning the Army kept meat supply fluctuating between shortages and overabundance. To meet military demands, each state had to provide a weekly or monthly proportion of supplies, but the Continental Army was dependent upon a daily supply of cattle. Any failure in delivery caused immediate distress. Appeals for relief were then sent out to the states. In some cases such appeals had the effect of bringing forward to camp so large an amount of supplies from the storekeepers that a temporary overabundance was produced, resulting in waste and loss. This problem particularly applied to cattle supply, for neither the commissary nor the quartermaster had the means of disposing of an oversupply immediately, or of supporting cattle in camp, where forage was practically nonexistent.18 The new regulation did nothing to correct the basic weakness in the method of supplying the troops with cattle, and meat shortages continued.
Blaine, who had succeeded Jeremiah Wadsworth as Commissary General of Purchases, was exasperated by his inability to supply the Continental Army under the system of specific supplies. The existing quotas were inadequate, and by giving credit to the states for provisions furnished under the requisition of December 1779, the act in effect had relieved some of them from any further contributions in 1780. How, demanded Blaine in May, was an additional supply of flour to be obtained, since the flour supplied under the December requisition was nearly all consumed and none was coming into the magazines? Greene had spotted this defect much earlier, and Washington had pointed out that the law not only made no provision for purchase by the state agents of any supplies above the assigned quotas but also prohibited Continental supply officers from purchasing any.19 Blaine informed the Board of War that although Pennsylvania's agents
16. (1) RG 93, Pickering Letters, 123:180-83 (circular to deputies, 16 Dec 80); 194-96 (to Donaldson Yeates, 23 Dec 80). (2) For losses sustained, see also RG 11, CC Papers, item 78, 4:129-32 (Blaine to Pres of Cong, 8 Mar 81).
17. Washington Papers, 172:113 (to Washington, 2 May 81).
18. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 21:184-85 (to Gov Trumbull, 4 Feb 81).
19. (1) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Bd of War, 25 May 80). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 18:152-57 (to Pres of Cong, 26 Mar 80).
had not yet begun their purchases, his deputies were unable to purchase for lack of money. He also warned that Delaware, its assigned quota already filled, had removed its embargo, and that private individuals were loading vessels with flour and were in an excellent position to engross all surplus flour in the region. He feared that corrective measures would be delayed until it was too late to avert suffering by the Continental Army because of lack of provisions.
Possible Allied Cooperation
Though Congress did not revise the act of 25 February at the time Blaine raised his objections, a committee that had been sent to camp, instructed primarily to reform abuses in the supply departments, attempted to further supply efforts.20 The committee had scarcely settled down at camp when Lafayette arrived from France bringing news of a French naval and military force being sent to aid the American cause. This welcome news underscored the need for adopting immediate measures to promote effective cooperation. To draw forth the resources of the country in men and supplies, Washington, on 14 May 1780, earnestly advocated the appointment of a small committee that would have practically the full powers of Congress in these respects. Congress, however, was opposed to granting such powers and appointed no new committee. It did give additional, though somewhat vague powers, to the existing committee at camp.21
On 19 May Congress instructed the committee "to expedite the drawing forth the supplies" required by the resolution of 25 February 1780. If Washington, in some extraordinary emergency, needed more supplies than the assigned quotas, Congress authorized the committee to request the legislative or executive powers of any of the states from New Hampshire through Virginia to procure the additional supplies at the expense of the United States. If articles not provided for by the resolution of 25 February were needed, it authorized the committee to direct their procurement. In either case, action was to be taken only with the concurrence of the Commander in Chief. Restricted as these powers were, an unsuccessful effort was nevertheless made to limit their exercise to sixty days.22
At the same time, Congress took two other steps. It adopted a resolution calling on the states to collect and pay into the Continental Treasury within thirty days 10 million dollars, according to specified proportions, which would be applied "solely to the bringing the army into the field, and
20. The committee consisted of Philip Schuyler, John Mathews, and Nathaniel Peabody.
21. (1) George Washington, The Writings of Washington, ed. Worthington C. Ford, 14 vols. (New York, 1889-92), 8:264 (to James Duane, 14 May 80). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 18:365-68 (to Joseph Jones, same date). (3) Burnett, Letters, 5:170 (Duane to Schuyler, 26 May 80).
22. JCC, 17:438-39 (19 May 80).
forwarding their supplies." Since little or no response had been given to earlier requests for money, it was doubtful, however, whether this latest one would be honored. Congress also asked each state legislature to invest its executive authority with power to draw forth the resources of the state on the application of the committee. Congress had to rely on the states, for it had no resources of its own. The powers of the committee would be inadequate "to the purposes of [its] Appointment," the President of Congress warned, "unless they shall derive their force from the States" to whom the committee would have to make application. "You know the Value of the prize for which you contend," he added.23 There was some doubt among Continental Army officers and even in the committee itself that its powers were adequate to the emergency, but it promptly took such action as it could. Two days after it learned of its new powers, the committee addressed a spirited appeal to the states, urging compliance with the February requisitions. It also called upon the states to adopt measures for having the supplies transported to Washington's army.24
The troops, meanwhile, were "pinched for Provisions." They were "reduced to the very verge of famine," wrote Surgeon James Thacher. For days they had been entirely without meat and, at best, on half or quarter allowance of rations. Their patience was exhausted; mutiny had broken out and threatened to spread.25 Blaine, who had not had a shilling for two months, was then in Philadelphia, adopting every means to procure supplies. He succeeded in borrowing 200 barrels of beef and pork from merchants there, and he informed Washington that he hoped to obtain more in Lancaster County. After including in his estimate what Deputy Robert Forsyth could spare from Virginia, he promised the Commander in Chief 1,000 barrels.26 More immediately, however, to Lafayette the army seemed to be in an appalling state when he returned to Morristown from Philadelphia at the end of May. It was "an army that is reduced to nothing, that wants provisions, that has not one of the necessary means to make war," he wrote President Joseph Reed of Pennsylvania, urging him to lend his aid. Washington, too, appealed to Pennsylvania. "All our departments, all our operations are at a stand, and unless a system very different from that which has for a long time prevailed, be immediately adopted throughout the states our affairs must soon become desperate beyond the possibility of recovery."27
Washington approved of the committee's initial appeal to the states,
23. Burnett, Letters, 5:155-56 (to-several states, 19 May 80).
24. Ibid., 5:164-69 (committee to several states, 25 May 80).
25. (1) Thacher, Military Journal of the American Revolutionary War, p. 198. (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 18:413 (to Maj Gen Robert Howe, 25 May 80); 427-28 (to Bd of War, 27 May 80).
26. Washington Papers, 136:93 (27 May 80).
27. (1) Reed, Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, 2:207 (31 May 80). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 18:434 (to Reed, 28 May 80).
but if the preparations for allied cooperation were to be successful, general statements would have to give way to specific demands. He needed to know exactly the number of men, the amounts of provisions and forage, and the means of transportation that the states could furnish at specific times, and whether they could continue to deliver these monthly quotas regularly throughout the campaign. He therefore had an estimate prepared of the supplies needed for an army of 40,000 men for one month, and he apportioned the requisitions among the states. The committee dispatched a circular to the states on 2 June apportioning the new and larger quotas and explaining the necessity for them. Washington also sent out a circular to the states and Congress added its appeal.28 As June passed and as the expected arrival of the French forces drew closer, appeal followed appeal, but no response came from the states that would permit Washington to formulate a plan of action.
It was at this time that Elbridge Gerry offered a plan for obtaining an immediate supply of money, thereby relieving the supply crisis that had resulted from the exhausted state of the Treasury. At the suggestion of the Committee at Headquarters, with whom he had consulted on his way to Massachusetts early in June, Gerry wrote Robert Morris to enlist his support for his proposal. Since taxes were too slow and loans inadequate, the only way to get money was from "the vigorous exertions of the Citizens" of the United States. He proposed an association of merchants to induce the inhabitants of the country to exchange their old Continental bills of credit for new bills at the rate established by Congress in its resolution of 18 March. The Treasury would thereby be supplied with funds through the issue of new bills, and Washington in consequence would be furnished with the supplies necessary for cooperating with the French forces. The weight of Morris' influence, Gerry wrote, would ensure success for the proposal.29
This letter led to an effort by a number of Philadelphia merchants that brought at least temporary relief to the starved Continental forces. On 17 June 1780 they sent 500 barrels of flour to camp to relieve the immediate wants of Washington's army while they perfected their plan. They proposed to subscribe a fund of 300,000 pounds in hard money to be used to procure and transport to the army 3 million rations and 300 hogsheads of rum, which would be enough to feed an army of 40,000 for two months. To carry out their plan, the associators established a bank. Congress in turn pledged the faith of the United States for the support of the bank and for the security and indemnification of the subscribers. It agreed to deposit bills of exchange
28. (1) Ibid., 18:455-59 (to Committee of Cooperation, 31 May 80); 468-70 (circular to states, 2 Jun 80). (2) Burnett, Letters, 5:183-89 (Committee at Hq to states, 2 Jun 80). (3) JCC, 17:515 (15 Jun 80).
29. Burnett, Letters, 5:205-06 (Gerry to Morris, 11 Jun 80); 207 (Committee at Hq to Gerry, I I Jun 80).
on Europe to the amount of 150,000 pounds sterling; these were not to be used, however, unless other means of discharging the debt to the merchants proved inadequate.30 As a result of the efforts of the Philadelphia merchants, provisions began to move to the army. At the same time, it was hoped that a continuous supply would soon result from procurement by the states under the system of specific supplies.
On 14 July 1780 Washington received news of the arrival of the French fleet at Newport four days earlier. Though the strength of Rochambeau's army was not yet known, all efforts were now directed to completing the preparations for the projected joint attack on New York. Reports began to come in from some of the states on the supplies they expected to send and the preparations they were making.31 Prospects appeared more promising than they had for many weeks, but the improvement was more apparent than real. Commissary General Blaine continued to be uneasy about future supply.32 He complained that the contractors purchasing supplies in the states to fill the assigned quotas were not subject to his orders. If they were delinquent in their deliveries-and he had reason to fear they would be-he had no way of bringing them to account. The main army's magazines were nearly exhausted of all kinds of provisions, and efforts to restock them, he warned, would undoubtedly be impeded by the purchasing activities of the French.
In June 1780, before the arrival of the French forces, Congress had agreed that they would be provisioned by their own commissaries under the direction of M. Louis de Corny. It had furnished the latter with letters of introduction to the executive powers of the several states to expedite his efforts to establish magazines for the troops soon to arrive. It had granted him permission to purchase wherever it was most convenient, though Congress had suggested that it would be desirable, in order to avoid competition, for the French commissaries to use the currency of the United States in making purchases. But since Congress had qualified this suggestion by the phrase "as far as may be," Blaine interpreted the procurement authorization to mean that if Continental currency did not serve de Corny's purpose, he could use another form of payment, "which of Course will be hard money." Blaine advised Washington that his assistants consequently would be unable to obtain "a single Article until the French purchases were completed."33
30. (1) Ibid., 5:224 (Schuyler to Washington, 18 Jun 80); 235 (James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, 23 Jun 80); 280 (Pres of Cong to eastern states, 21 Jul 80). (2) JCC, 17:549-50 (22 Jun 80).
31. (1) Washington Papers, 141:48 (Trumbull to Washington, 10 Jul 80); 139 (Meshech Weare to Washington, 15 Jul 80). (2) Burnett, Letters, 5:271-73 (Committee at Hq to Pres of Cong, 18 Jul 80).
32 Washington Papers, 142:74 (to Washington, 19 Jul 80).
33. (1) Ibid. (2) JCC, 17:489 (5 Jun 80).
As days passed, Blaine found nothing to improve the supply picture. Early in August the main army's most important magazine, at Trenton, was empty. There was no more than eight days' supply of flour in the neighborhood of the army, and Blaine had received no bullocks from Connecticut in four weeks. He begged the committee at camp "to press the States to comply with your requisitions." Washington, unable to concert any plans when he had little hope of obtaining the supplies to prosecute a campaign, denounced the system of specific supplies as "the most uncertain, expensive, and injurious, that could be devised."34
Once again the troops were without meat. To keep them from starving, Washington moved his camp on 23 August to the vicinity of Fort Lee, "with a view of attempting some relief from a forage." Coupled with the extreme distress of his army from lack of provisions, news arrived that the expected second division of the French- fleet was blockaded at Brest by British squadrons and would not arrive before October. The likelihood of any military action became so remote that economy dictated dismissal of the idle militia to reduce the drain on what little provisions could be accumulated for the anny.35
Breakdown of the Specific Supplies System
Early in September 1780 Blaine was again in Philadelphia, laying Washington's requirements before Congress. It had no other solution then to assign new quotas for immediate needs and to continue relying on the system of specific supplies for drawing forth provisions for 1781 despite the inadequacy of the states' response to requisitions in 1780. When Congress assigned the new quotas for 1781 early in November, Blaine commented, "It looks well upon paper, and I pray God it may be half executed." But some six months later he could only advise the Board of War that the responses to these requisitions "do not furnish your Magazine with Eight weeks supplies for your Army."36
Despite the most urgent appeals to the states to forward their quotas, they failed in many cases to furnish supplies. In November 1780, for example, the Delaware Assembly adjourned till some time in January without providing the supplies required by the requisitions of 1780. On the other hand, when states did fill their quotas, the supplies at times failed to reach Washington's army because of faulty supervision and organization.
34. (1) RG 11, CC Papers, item 155, 1:337 (Blaine to committee, 7 Aug 80). (2) Burnett, Letters, 5:317 (John Mathews to Pres of Cong, 8 Aug 80). (3) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 19:403 (to Pres of Cong, 20 Aug 80).
35. Ibid., 19:437, 462-63 (to Pres of Cong, 24 and 28 Aug 80).
36. (1) See JCC, 18:825-27, 828-29, 843-49, 905, 907, 970-71 (14, 15, 21, and 22 Sep 80; 5, 6, and 24 Oct 80). See also pp. 1011 - 18 (3 Nov 80). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Washington, 10 Nov 80; to Bd of War, 24 May 81).
Maryland, for example, in response to a congressional request of 21 September for 500 head of cattle, procured as many as it could and sent them to Head of Elk, designated by Washington as the deposit point. The Continental officers stationed there, however, refused to receive or forward them to the army. They alleged that they had no money and protested that, in any case, the cattle were not their responsibility. As a result, some of the cattle had to be sold to buy feed for the remainder while the problem was referred for decision to the Board of War. On another occasion President Reed of Pennsylvania complained about the lack of people to receive flour sent to designated deposit points. "The System," he informed Washington, "necessarily implies a Receiver different from the purchaser, the latter delivering on account of the State and the other receiving in behalf of the Continent."37
An even worse problem was the lack of storage facilities. Flour was wasted because it was left exposed to the weather. A Treasury commissioner traveling from Philadelphia to New York was shocked at the negligence he found at several of the posts where magazines were established. At the very time that the main army was in great need of flour, he found large quantities of it wet, moldy, musty, rotten, and generally unfit for use because no care had been taken to store it properly. Barrels of flour were tumbled about indiscriminately, "heads out, hoops off, the casks open, and flour wasting.1138 After ten months of operating under the system of specific supplies, Washington on 26 December 1780 declared that only necessity could justify that method of obtaining supplies, for it was the most expensive and precarious of systems.39
The troops settled into winter quarters from West Point to Morristown, with the principal part of Washington's army located in the vicinity of West Point. It had been anticipated that a large flour magazine could be established on the Hudson River from grain supplied by New York, but enemy raids had destroyed the crops on the state's western frontier. Supplies from other states remained uncertain. The only recourse was impressment.40
A familiar pattern of scanty rations, inadequate clothing and shelter, and no pay was repeating itself. The patience of the troops became exhausted, and the dire consequences that Washington and Blaine had repeatedly warned Congress about began to materialize. Added to the soldiers' distress were grievances involving different interpretations of the period of their enlistment. The troops claimed their three-year enlistments had expired, and they demanded immediate discharge with payment of the back pay due
37. (1) Ibid. (to Pres of Cong, 12 Nov 80). (2) Burnett, Letters, 5:477 (Md. delegates to gov of Md., 5 Dec 80). (3) Washington Papers, 144:94 (Reed to Washington, 3 Aug 80).
38. Ibid., 155:71 (William Denning,to Washington, 24 Oct 80).
39. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 21:14-15 (to James Duane, 26 Dec 80).
40. Ibid., 20:312-13 (to Pres of Cong, 7 Nov 80); 411-12 (to Udny Hay, 27 Nov 80); 413-14 (to Gov Clinton, same date); 21:1 (to Pres of Cong, 22 Dec 80).
them. In these circumstances the troops of the Pennsylvania line, encamped near Morristown, mutinied on 1 January 1781. Their example was followed later in the month by three New Jersey regiments at Pompton, New Jersey. "It is in vain to think an Army can be kept together much longer, under such a variety of sufferings as ours has experienced," wrote Washington in an appeal to the New England states.41
It was but the repetition of an old refrain when Blaine early in 1781 advised Congress that he feared that the states would not "come up to their expectations" and that many would fall exceedingly short of their quotas. The troops were on a scant allowance of bread, and there was no fresh meat. The men were being subsisted, Blaine reported, on the little corned and salted beef that he had managed to accumulate for the spring campaign. "If our situation is such in the most plentiful season of the year, and when our Magazines ought to be filled with salt provisions," he wrote, "judge what it must be next Campaign when three times the number of men are in the Field." The best Congress could do was send copies of his letter to the states and urge them to "use every possible Exertion" in filling their quotas.42
By April the Commissary General's magazines of salted meat were exhausted. Troops stationed at posts in the, Highlands and on the northern frontier were in dire need. As early as 6 February 1781 there had been only 14 days' supply of beef at Fort Schuyler, New York, for 300 men. Troops at Albany and Schenectady had to be billeted on the inhabitants for lack of meat.43 There were stores of salted meat at distant magazines, but the Quartermaster General was unable to provide transportation. Flour deposited at Ringwood, New Jersey, was unavailable to the troops for the same reason. When repeated requests to civil authorities for impress warrants failed to produce transportation, Washington turned to military impress to obtain the needed wagons. His appeals to the states for salt provisions, cattle, and flour went unheeded, and the situation grew worse during the spring.44
In these circumstances Washington early in May 1781 determined to make one more great effort to obtain relief. He dispatched Maj. Gen. William Heath to New England to use his influence to persuade the states to take action. He instructed Heath to make a personal appeal to the executives and the assemblies for cattle and for transportation to move all salted provisions in western Connecticut and Massachusetts to relieve the immediate needs of the main Continental army and those troops stationed at posts along the
41. Ibid., 21:61 (circular, 5 Jan 81).
42. (1) RG 11, CC Papers, item 165, 1:389 (Blaine to Pres of Cong, 19 Jan 81). (2) Bumett, Letters, 5:545 (Pres of Cong to states, 27 Jan 81).
43. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 21:259 (to Blaine, 20 Feb 81).
44. Ibid., 21:442-43 (to Gov Trumbull, 10 Apr 81); 450-51 (to Heath, 12 Apr 81); 486-87 (to Nathaniel Stevens, issuing commissary, 21 Apr 81); 22:293 (to Brig Gen James Clinton, 4 May 81).
northern frontier. Heath was also to try to induce these states to establish a regular, systematic, and effectual plan for feeding the main army throughout the coming campaign.45 By 14 May Heath was at Hartford, where he persuaded Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut to direct Henry Champion to buy and forward 160 head of cattle for the immediate relief of the troops. A month later he reported to Washington that all the New England states were disposed "to afford every aid and support" to Washington. Specifically, Massachusetts had promised 7,000 rations of fresh beef per day for the month of July and the remainder of the campaign. To ensure this amount, the state had passed a resolution requiring the towns to collect 317,000 pounds of "live beef" each month. After deducting for hides, tallow, and waste in driving the cattle to camp, General Heath anticipated that this quantity would yield the required 7,000 pounds per day. The other New England states were equally cooperative. The supply of cattle was plentiful; the difficulty the states encountered was in finding the means to purchase them. The main army also required 120 hogsheads of rum per month from the New England states, but General Heath had not been assured of that quantity when he returned to camp. When the Yorktown campaign got under way later in the summer of 1781, the New England states continued to forward cattle until Washington directed otherwise.46
Meanwhile, Blaine, at the Board of War's order, was journeying through Maryland and Delaware. He found that the supplies procured for the troops were "very trifling." He gave Washington a full report of his findings and advised Deputy Commissary General Robert Forsyth in the Southern Department that he could not depend on Maryland for beef. Once again, on 24 May, he warned the Board of War that state agents never furnished supplies equal to daily demands, and that the states' failure to submit returns made it impossible for him to give the board an accurate account of supplies received.47
For two years the main army had been compelled to lie idle in the Highlands of the Hudson because of insufficient supplies and inadequate strength. Now the news arrived that Admiral de Grasse was on his way to the West Indies with a large fleet and would cooperate with Rochambeau's army at Newport and the Continental forces. After initial plans for moving against the British at New York became infeasible, planning began for the joint effort against Cornwallis in Virginia. Tremendous efforts would have to be made to support the proposed campaign. No supply department, however, was in readiness to do so.48
45. Ibid., 22:58-59 (to Heath, 8 and 9 May 81).
46. For correspondence covering the details of Heath's mission, see "Heath Papers," Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 7th ser., 5 (1905): 196-225.
47. (1) Washington Papers, '174:37 (Blaine to Washington, 14 May 81). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Forsyth, 14 May 81; to Bd of War, 24 May 81).
48. Fitzpatrick, The Diaries of Washington, 2:207-08.
Limited Application of the Contract System
Shortly after Washington initiated his own measures to bring beef to the main army, Congress took steps to relieve the bread shortage. A committee of Congress, armed with a letter from Washington describing the distress caused by the lack of bread, called on Robert Morris, who had been appointed Superintendent of Finance.49 It also brought a proposed congressional resolution authorizing the Commander in Chief to seize flour wherever it could be found. Though Morris had not yet entered upon the duties of his office, he knew that he would be confronted with an empty treasury and exhausted public credit. He therefore was not prepared to take official action, but he was willing to pledge his private credit to procure supplies quickly. Late in May he called upon two men of resourcesThomas Lowrey in New Jersey and Philip Schuyler in New York-to purchase 1,000 barrels of flour each at the lowest possible price and to forward the flour to camp as they obtained it rather than to delay shipment until all of it had been procured. Morris pledged his own funds to reimburse Lowrey and Schuyler in hard money for the cost and charges involved in this transaction.
At the same time, lest the states relax their efforts to procure specific supplies in consequence of his activity, Morris urged the committee to keep this action secret. Within less than a month both men had procured the flour ordered, and Morris requested Lowrey to purchase another 1,000 barrels.50 Subsequently, Pennsylvania, on 26 June, empowered Morris to procure its share of specific supplies and to pay Congress the balance of the taxes due from the state. For these purposes it assigned to him the entire emission of state paper printed under an act of 7 April 1781, and the Superintendent of Finance credited the state with the flour supplied by Lowrey and Schuyler.51
Morris soon found himself thoroughly involved in the task of supplying food for the campaign of 1781 despite the fact that when he had accepted the office of Superintendent of Finance, he had expressly stipulated that he assumed no responsibility for provisioning the troops. Throughout the Yorktown campaign he continued to insist that specific supplies would have to provide the food for the army.52 But Washington looked to him for aid, and most of the members of Congress expected the Superintendent of Finance
49. Robert Morris was unanimously elected as Superintendent of Finance on 20 February 1781; he accepted the office on 14 May but did not take the oath of office and officially assume his duties until 27 June. Congress passed a resolution on 6 July 1781 validating his transactions before he took the oath of office. JCC, 19:180; 20:499, 723-24.
50. (1) Morris Diary, 1:3 (28 May 81). (2) Morris Letter Book A, fols. 14-18 (to Lowrey, Schuyler, Washington, and committee, 29 May 81). (3) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 22:226 (to Cuyler, 16 Jun 81); 255 (Lowrey to Washington, 23 Jun 81).
51. (1) Washington Papers, 179:16 (Morris to Washington, 5 Jul 81). (2) Morris Diary, 1:8 (26 Jun 81).
52. Morris Letter Book B, fols. 40-42 (to Gen Heath, 16 Oct 81).
to perform a miracle that would bring order into the chaotic finances of the country and solve once and for all the burdensome problem of supply. The Commander in Chief, however, did not allow his hopes to soar immoderately, for even Morris, "by Art magick," could do no more than extricate the country "by degrees, from the labyrinth into which our finance is plunged."53
Morris believed that it was the duty of the Superintendent of Finance not only to collect revenue by methods that affected all the people equally and produced returns easily, but also to expend that revenue in the most frugal, fair, and honest manner possible.54 Application of these concepts inevitably led him into the field of supply. Like Washington, he found the system of specific supplies inordinately extravagant and wasteful. Frequently when the army had been desperately in want of supplies, barrels of salted meat and of flour deposited at various places in the states had gone to waste because transporting them to where they were needed was too costly. He concluded that it therefore would be in the best interests of the country to modify the system and return to a cash basis. At his request Congress authorized him to dispose of specific supplies furnished by the states in any manner that he, with the advice of the Commander in Chief, judged best.55
Morris proposed to sell the provisions deposited at distant locations and to use the money so obtained to contract for supplies nearer to the troops. He had confidence that private contracts would afford the best means of
53. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 22:177 (to John Mathews, 7 Jun 81); 159 (to Morris, 4 Jun 81).
54. Morris Letter Book A, fols. 82-87 (to Thomas Burke, William Churchill Houston, and Oliver Wolcott, n.d.).
55. JCC, 20:597-98 (4 Jun 81).
husbanding the country's resources. In all countries engaged in war, he later wrote Oliver Phelps, a beef contractor, "experience has sooner or later pointed out contracts with private men of substance and talents equal to the understanding as the cheapest, most certain, and consequently the best mode of obtaining those articles, which are necessary for the subsistence, covering, clothing, and moving of an army."56 Washington was in full accord with this proposal to sell specific supplies at distant deposit points and contract for provisions available nearer to the army. He cautioned the Superintendent of Finance, however, not to expect to find large quantities of provisions that could be sold. The amount of specific supplies actually provided by the states and deposited in magazines was comparatively small. If the states, however, would pay Morris the balance due on their quotas of specific supplies, there would undoubtedly "be a vast saving by . . . expending the Money in the way of Contract."57
The idea of contracting for supplies had been under consideration by Congress for some months. A committee appointed to devise further ways and means for defraying the expenses of the campaign of 1781 had recommended contracting for rations on 14 May. In consequence, Congress directed the Board of War to estimate the rations necessary for both the main Continental army and the Southern Army. The rations were to be supplied at a stipulated price in gold and silver by contract for the six-month period from I July 1781 to 1 January 1782. The contractors, Congress instructed the board, were to have the option to receive the specific supplies furnished by the states, at such prices as were agreed upon, in part payment under the contracts.58
The Board of War consulted Blaine about the components of the ration and computed its estimate of rations required for the main army and the Southern Army on the supposition that the states would complete their quotas of troops in accord with the establishment of 3 October 1780.59 Washington approved the method used in computing the estimate but drew attention to the omission of vinegar from the ration. On the theory that his troops would be employed for the next six months in the Highlands, he directed that all provisions, except those he designated for Fort Pitt and the posts in Pennsylvania and New England, be sent to the Hudson River area.
56. Jared Sparks, ed., Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, 12 vols. (Boston, 1829-30), 12:127 (Morris to Phelps, 30 Mar 82).
57. (1) Washington Papers, 179:16 (Morris to Washington, 5 Jul 81). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 22:365-67, 449 (to Morris, 13 Jul and 2 Aug 81).
58. JCC, 20:501, 526 (14 and 22 May 81).
59. (1) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Bd of War, 24 May 81). (2) Washington Papers, 176:64 (Bd of war to Pres of Cong, 7 Jun 81 ).
Drawing on the experience of the Commissary General of Issues, Washington also suggested several additional clauses for inclusion in the contract to prevent impositions on the government. He suggested that the quality of the rum ought to be specified. Fresh meat ought to be accepted at the weight when killed, for the government was sustaining a great loss by taking live cattle at estimated weights from the states. To avoid all disputes as to weight, measure, or quality, the contractor ought to have an agent with the main army and at the several posts to take proper receipts from the commissary. Washington also raised the question of appointing an inspector of provisions to prevent disputes. He urged that the contract ought to stipulate clearly that the government was to have all hides and tallow from the animals that were delivered, for these materials were needed to make shoes and soap for the troops. Finally, Washington pointed out the desirability of entering into contracts for 1782 as early as possible in order to enable the contractors to take adequate measures for storing salted provisions in magazines for use during the coming winter and spring. He directed the board to apply to General Greene, commanding the Southern Army, for advice on supplying that army.60
The Board of War sent these suggestions to Congress. Several weeks earlier it had pointed out that Congress had not designated who had authority to make these contracts. The board had assumed, however, that they would be made by the executive officers of the several military departments under the direction of the Superintendent of Finance, since the regulations of his department called for him "to direct and control all persons employed in procuring supplies for the public service and in the expenditure of public money." At his request, the board prepared a contract form for supplying rations, and Congress, in July 1781, specifically vested in Morris the power to contract for all supplies needed by the Continental Army as well as for their transportation. 61
Though Congress granted Morris the power to make contracts, he was dependent for the use of that power on the revenues provided by the states. Morris was convinced that supplying by contract was the most effective and economical method of provisioning the troops, but there was no money in the treasury, and credit was at so low an ebb that most people doubted whether anyone would sign a contract. In 1781 Pennsylvania was the only state to give Morris money out of which to provide its specific supplies, and consequently the only contracts he made for that year were confined to that state. Out of the funds provided, however, he not only defrayed the cost of those contracts but also furnished flour to the troops on the Hudson and in Virginia.62
60. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 22:244-48 (21 Jun 81).
61. (1) Washington Papers, 176:64 (Bd of War to Cong, 7 Jun 81); 178:4 (same to same, 26 Jun 81). (2) JCC, 20:734 (10 Jul 81).
62. Morris Letter Book B, fol. 245 (to Greene, 19 Dec 81).
The Yorktown Campaign
At the direction of Congress, Robert Mortis and Richard Peters of the Board of War departed for headquarters on 7 August 1781 to consult with Washington.63 By that time the French and Americans had agreed that they could not attack the British positions in New York. Washington was considering the alternative plan of moving south to help Lafayette in Virginia, but he was harassed by the problem of how to obtain food, forage, and wagons for such a long journey without money to pay for them. In the midst of these perplexities, Morris arrived to confer about the size of the Continental Army for 1782 and the measures that might be taken to reduce expenses.64 Ironically, Washington was then having difficulty assembling the troops that had been authorized for the 1781 campaign.
Morris had been in correspondence with the French about the bad effects on supply of competition between French and American purchasers. At camp he had the opportunity to confer with Rochambeau and proposed contracting for the supplies of the French forces on the same terms as for the Continental Army. Rochambeau, however, was well satisfied with the services of Wadsworth and Carter, the contractors supplying the French army, and he was reluctant to alter his arrangements. In the end Morris decided that it would be best to postpone making any changes until after the campaign.65
While Morris was at camp the long-awaited news was received on 14 August that Admiral de Grasse and his fleet of some 25 to 29 vessels, carrying 3,000 troops, had set sail from the West Indies on 13 August for the Chesapeake Bay, where the fleet would remain until 15 October. That date allowed Washington two months and a day to move his forces southward 450 miles and defeat Cornwallis. He lost no time in completing arrangements; five days after the message arrived, the troops were moving. Leaving about half of his army-some seventeen thin battalions of New England troops-in the Highlands under the command of General Heath, Washington took about 2,500 American troops and all the French forces to Virginia.
Morris promptly initiated measures to provide for the troops left in the Highlands. He directed Thomas Lowrey, who had come to camp, to purchase more flour, which would bring the whole amount credited to the account of Pennsylvania to 4,000 barrels. He next applied to Udny Hay, then state agent for New York, for the delivery of the specific supplies due from that state. Hay declared that he had enough wheat and flour available to fill 3,000 barrels but that he lacked the necessary casks. To remedy this deficiency, Morris ordered the Commissary General of Issues to collect all the
63. (1) JCC, 21:791, 817 (26 and 31 Jul 81). (2) Sparks, Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, 11:426-30 (Morris and Peters to Washington, 13 Aug 81).
64. Morris Diary, 1:35-39 (21 Aug 81, minutes of conference).
65. (1) Morris Letter Book A, fols. 79-81 (to Minister of France, 2 Aug 81). (2) Morris Diary, 1:35-39, 47, 49-51 (21 and 29 Aug, and 1-5 Sep 81).
old flour barrels from the posts along the Hudson River and deliver them to Hay. Before he left camp, Morris also proposed that Rochambeau turn over to Heath's forces all flour not needed when the French encampment broke up. He guaranteed delivery of a like quantity when the French forces reached their destination.66
Morris undoubtedly thought that the troops under General Heath would be well supplied, but in less than two months he was called upon to relieve their distress. French competition had caused prices to soar. Lowrey had been buying flour at 15 shillings per hundredweight, but when buyers for the French army gave 21 shillings, he informed Morris, he was forced to halt his purchases in New Jersey.67 Hay failed to deliver the flour that he had assured Morris was available, while the amount released by Rochambeau was less than what had been expected. General Heath soon was reporting that his troops lacked flour. To relieve their immediate distress, Morris directed William Duer to purchase 2,000 barrels of flour. About 500 barrels were to be delivered at once to Heath, but the remaining barrels were to be held as a supply for the garrison at West Point during the winter. General Heath, Morris insisted, would have to apply to New York for additional supplies; 5,800 barrels of flour were due in specific supplies from that state.68
After completing his initial arrangements for supplying General Heath's troops, Morris had left headquarters for Philadelphia, where he concentrated on preparations for the campaign against Cornwallis. Washington had requested him to establish a magazine of 300 barrels of flour, 300 barrels of salted meat, and 10 hogsheads of rum at Head of Elk for the use of the troops on their passage southward. On 24 August the Superintendent of Finance directed Commissary General Blaine to obtain the needed supplies by calling on Maryland and Delaware for their specific supplies. At the same time, Morris made an agreement with Levi Hollingsworth, a Philadelphia merchant, for the delivery of 300 barrels of flour at Elk, but if Blaine was successful in his efforts, Hollingsworth was not "to suffer this Purchase to be made." Within a week Blaine reported that the magazine had been established. To further provide for the troops en route, Morris appealed to the governors of Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and Delaware to deliver the specific supplies due from them. "I hope, entreat, expect the utmost possible Efforts," he wrote.69
In the meantime, Washington also was supervising supply. He had made arrangements to have salted provisions sent to the southern area. He
66. (1) Ibid., 1:35-39 (21 Aug 81). (2) Morris Letter Book A, fol. 377 (to Heath, 17 Sep 81).
67. Morris Diary, 1:47 (29 Aug 81).
68. Morris Letter Book B, fols, 40-42 (to Heath, 16 Oct 81); 215-17 (to Hay, 6 Dec 81).
69. Morris Diary, 1:41-43 (23 and 24 Aug 81). (2) Morris Letter Book A, fol. 324 (to Blaine 24 Aug 8 1); 267 - 68 (to gov of Md., 21 Aug 8 1); 268 - 69 (to govs of N. J. and Del., 22 Aug 8 1); 273-74 (to gov of Va., 23 Aug 81).
directed the Commissary General of Issues to determine what quantities were ,then available on or near the Connecticut River. Once he received this information, he requested the aid of the governor of Connecticut in assisting the Quartermaster's Department to ship 1,000 barrels of salted provisions from that area to Newport. With the addition of the salted provisions and thirty hogsheads of rum stored at Providence, the whole was to be shipped from Rhode Island in convoy with the French squadron under Admiral Louis, Comte de Barras, who was about to sail from Newport to join de Grasse.70 Fearful later that his order had been delayed and that the provisions had not arrived in time to sail with Barras, Washington appealed to the governor of Maryland to supply such provisions. He also requested the Superintendent of Finance to see whether he could obtain the same amounts of salted provisions and rum either in Philadelphia or in Maryland.71
Well, aware that the southern states would not be able to supply the meat necessary for the troops converging on Virginia, Washington also made arrangements for a supply of fresh meat. He directed Heath to forward, from the monthly supply of cattle furnished him by the eastern states, 100 head per week for the use of the American detachment in Virginia. Blaine's department was responsible for forwarding the cattle, but he had no money for employing drovers. Morris therefore appealed to the governor of New York to advance the necessary funds, the money to be credited to that state's account. Lack of money also prevented Blaine from paying for the pasturage of the cattle as the herds moved south. In consequence, Morris requested the governor of New Jersey to assist the Commissary Department by granting it warrants to impress pasturage.72 By such means was a supply of beef ensured for Washington's troops.
As the French forces moved southward, Morris had to honor his agreement with Rochambeau. He directed Blaine to deliver 1,200 barrels of flour to whatever places he and the French agent agreed upon. He urged Blaine to obtain the flour from the quotas of Maryland and Virginia, for the "state of our finances" would not permit any expenditures. The demands being made upon the harassed Superintendent of Finance were so numerous that he confided to his diary that "it seems as if every Person connected with Public Service entertain [sic] an Opinion that I am full of Money." If Blaine could not make delivery, Morris ordered, he was to enlist the services of Mathew Ridley, a Baltimore merchant with whom Morris already had an agreement for the delivery of 3,000 barrels of flour for the use of the French fleet.73
70. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 22:487 (to Charles Stewart, 8Aug 81); 23:1 (to Barras, 16 Aug 81); 1-2 (to Dep Gov Jabez Bowen, 16 Aug 81); 3 (to Gov Trurnbull, 16 Aug 81).
71. Ibid., 23:51-52 (to Morris, 27 Aug 81); 57-58 (to Gov Thomas Sim Lee, 27 Aug 81).
72. (1) Ibid., 23:86-87 (to Heath, 4 Sep 81). (2) Morris Letter Book A, fol. 337 (to gov of N.Y., 6 Sep 81); 339 (to gov of N.J., 6 Sep 81).
73. (1) Ibid., fol. 389 (to Monsieur Dante, 19 Sep 81); 395 (to Blaine, 20 Sep 81); 281-83 (to Ridley, 27 Aug 8 1); 318 - 19 (to John, Holker, 29 Aug 81). (2) Morris Letter Book B, fols. 32-33 (to Ridley and Pringle, 9 Oct 81). (3) Morris Diary, vol. 1 (10 Sep 81).
By 6 September the American troops reached Head of Elk. Blaine, unable to accompany the army when it left Philadelphia, sent his deputy, George Morton. Blaine directed him to call upon the Maryland and Virginia state agents for provisions whenever necessary. In the event the army left Elk before Blaine arrived, Morton was to apply to headquarters for the line of march in Virginia and see that sufficient supplies were deposited at the different magazines along the line of communications.74
Despite the efforts being made to collect and forward provisions as rapidly as possible, the troops arriving in the Williamsburg area were going without bread. Supply was on "too precarious a footing," Washington wrote the President of Congress. He urged the governor of Maryland to send such supplies as could be shipped quickly down Chesapeake Bay. He directed Col. James Hendricks, quartermaster at Alexandria, Virginia, to procure and load with flour all the craft that he could obtain and send them to the James River. The bay, he informed him, was now well protected by the French fleet. Hendricks was to send similar word to the quartermaster at Georgetown.75
Some of the difficulties in procuring provisions stemmed from the lack of a general plan to be followed by French and American agents. As long as Wadsworth and Carter had cash to pay for supplies for the French army, Hendricks wrote, "that infatuating metal" would give them an advantage that no promise or threat from a Continental purchasing agent would be able to overcome. Farmers would not thresh their grain nor carry it to the mills unless they could obtain something of value in exchange. He bad no great expectations of being able to procure any large quantity of flour.76 Some three weeks later, however, Hendricks was loading vessels with 600 gallons of spirits and 1,000 barrels of flour, largely collected from commissaries in Maryland who had received specific supplies furnished by that state. He reported that the extraordinarily dry season had stopped the operation of all the mills in the Alexandria area, but he advised the governor of Virginia that if the state commissioners exerted themselves, some flour could be obtained. "We have daily wagons coming to Town from the back Counties loaded with flour purchas'd by the French Agents," proving, he informed the governor, that it was available.77
His mission completed in Philadelphia, Blaine joined the army in Virginia. There he and Charles Stewart selected deposit points along the shore of Chesapeake Bay from which both Virginia and Maryland supplies could be transshipped to the troops. Blaine went to the Eastern Shore of Maryland
74. Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Morton, 6 Sep 81).
75. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 23:118 (to Pres of Cong, 15 Sep 81); 112 (to gov of Md., 15 Sep 81); 120-31 (to Hendricks, 15 Sep 81).
76. (1) Washington Papers, 184:88. (Hendricks to Washington, 20 Sep 81). (2) See also Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 11 vols. (Richmond, 1875-93), 2:476 (Hendricks to Col William Davies, 21 Sep 81).
77. Ibid., 2:543 (11 Oct 8 1).
to supervise personally the movement of cattle to landings where they could be slaughtered and the meat sufficiently salted to permit transport by water. In preparing a report to Morris after the surrender of Cornwallis, Blaine recorded that Virginia and Maryland had provided a plentiful supply of provisions during the siege of Yorktown.78
After the formalities of surrender were completed, plans had to be made for the removal of prisoners, the disposal of stores at Yorktown, and the disposition of the allied troops during the winter. Washington took steps to strengthen General Greene's forces in the Southern Department by dispatching to his aid Pennsylvania infantry under Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair and Maj. Gen. Anthony Wayne. While Rochambeau was to spend the winter in the vicinity of Yorktown, Washington and the main Continental army were to return north to guard the Hudson. As soon as the American troops and supplies reached Head of Elk, Admiral de Grasse and the French fleet were to sail for the West Indies.
Having made these plans, Washington instructed Blaine and Stewart to provision the troops en route to their destinations. In addition, they were to fulfill an agreement that Washington had made with the British to supply the flag vessels carrying paroled officers to New York with biscuits and salt provisions provided that the British furnished a like quantity at King's Ferry or West Point. Washington instructed Blaine and Stewart also to take care of the requirements of the hospitals. Any provisions that remained on hand after all these needs had been met were to be used to pay the debt owed the French army.79 In the meantime, Washington had canceled an order for salted provisions that he had made, and he had directed General Heath to stop forwarding cattle from the eastern states to Virginia. If Heath received more cattle than his forces could consume, he was to have the surplus slaughtered and salted at convenient places on the Hudson River. Preparing for the winter, Washington also ordered him to transport to West Point all the salted provisions accumulated on the Connecticut River.80
Blaine and Stewart carried out their instructions but found disposal of the cattle on hand most troublesome. With the departure of the troops, some 2,300 to 2,500 head of cattle, collected for the use of the allied army, remained at Williamsburg. About half of them were unfit for use, and many daily were dying with distemper. Blaine applied to Wadsworth and Carter to take the proportion acquired for the French. He thought it only fair that they share the costs of the collections that had been made for both armies, but through some misunderstanding with the governor of Virginia, they
78. (1) Washington Papers, 184:133 (Blaine and Stewart to Washington,. 26 Sep 81). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 23:142-43 (to Blaine and Stewart, 26 Sep 81); 209-10 (to Gov Thomas Sim Lee, 12 Oct 81), (3) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Morris, 27 Nov 81).
79. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 23:313-14 (to Blaine and Stewart, 31 Oct 81).
80. Ibid., 23:257 (to David Ross, 23 Oct 81); 278 (to Heath, 27 Oct 81).
refused to accept delivery. Blaine then adopted every possible means for disposing of the cattle fit for use. He forwarded 500 with General St. Clair's detachment; he sent 700 to Fredericksburg and Winchester for the use of the British prisoners; and he intended to have 300 slaughtered at Williamsburg for the use of the hospitals and guards there. He requested salt from Virginia to preserve the meat, and he called the attention of the governor and the Virginia Council to the need to prepare magazines of salted pork to meet future requisitions. He sent his deputy, Robert Forsyth, to the governor for instructions on the disposal of the unfit cattle. He also offered a plan to induce farmers who had fodder to buy the unfit stock by extending to them a nine-month credit period, with payment to be made in specie or marketable beef.81 When Blaine completed these arrangements late in November 1781, his services as Commissary General of Purchases came to an end, as did those of Charles Stewart as Commissary General of Issues.
Contracts for provisioning the troops of the main Continental army after Yorktown were readily executed. On 6 December 1781 Morris made a contract with Comfort Sands to supply rations during the following year to the troops stationed at West Point and its dependencies.82 Associated with Comfort Sands in this contract were his brothers Richardson and Joshua Sands. Under the contract system, officers no longer drew rations; instead, they drew money at the end of each month for the rations allowed them by Congress. For their convenience, however, the contractors agreed to supply them with all or part of their allowed rations, the Paymaster General or his deputy settling with the contractors for the cost of the rations and paying the officers any balance due them. All magazines previously established under the Commissary Department now came under the control of the Superintendent of Finance, who could sell the supplies in the magazines to the contractors or, if they did not want them, to anyone else.83
There were high hopes that many benefits would flow from the contract system. Morris was certain that it would provide a more effectual and punctual supply than had been obtained under the Commissariat. Moreover, the contract system would effect great savings by eliminating a multitude of purchasing and issuing commissaries. When it was remembered, Morris pointed out, that salaries were not the only expense of a department, "it is certainly estimating within bounds to suppose, that five thousand soldiers are now fed every day on what it formerly cost the public to support
81. (1) Calendar of Virginia State Papers, 2:587-88 (Blaine and Stewart to Col Davies, 8 Nov 81); 606 (Blaine to Gov Nelson, 16 Nov 81). (2) Blaine Papers, Letter Book, 1780-83 (to Morris, 27 Nov 81).
82. For a copy of the contract, see Washington Papers, 188:122.
83. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 23:422-23 (GO, I Jan 82); 427 (to Heath, 3 Jan 82).
the issuers of provisions in [only] a part of the United States. " In addition, the contract system would save the cost of transporting provisions, for the contractors would make delivery. It was said that the contract for provisioning West Point and its dependencies had cut the expense of furnishing rations to those troops in half.84 By eliminating functions formerly performed by the supply departments, the contract system without question effected overall savings. Morris conceded, however, that the success of the system would depend on the character of the contractors. They would have to be men of integrity and fidelity who would not betray or defraud the government. He therefore was pleased that Comfort Sands had offered the lowest bid, for "his Character as an honest man and a good Whig stood high."85
Despite such expectations, in less than three months Army officers were criticizing the avarice of Sands and Company. Washington was troubled by a constant flow of complaints. Most of the difficulties stemmed from the method agreed upon for issuing supplies. The contractors had deemed it unreasonable to have to maintain an issuing store at every place where troops were quartered during the winter of 1781-82. As a consequence, when Morris initiated the system, the contract obliged Sands and Company to establish only three issuing stores, to which the brigade teams would come to obtain provisions for the troops. Experience soon demonstrated that as long as the troops remained detached in winter quarters this arrangement was inconvenient. For example, five regiments of the Connecticut line, quartered east of the Hudson River, had to send their teams three miles to the river and then across it to draw their supplies at West Point. Other regiments experienced equal fatigue in obtaining their provisions. General Heath recommended that some alterations be made in these arrangements, but the contractors persisted in limiting the number of issuing stores. In the meantime, as Washington informed Morris, "while Mr. Sands was saving fifty or an hundred pounds in the establishment of his Issues," the public was paying for "at least 400 pair of shoes and 1,000 blankets extraordinary in transporting, two or three miles over rugged roads, the provisions from these places on men's shoulders."86
The contractors' desire to limit the number of issuing stores also adversely affected the sick. Dr. Samuel Adams, in charge of a hospital near New Windsor, reported early in January that the sick at that hospital were entirely destitute of provisions, for none had been drawn since the beginning of the, year. A daily supply of 300 to 400 rations was required. He had assumed that the West Point contract necessarily included the hospital among its
84. (1) Sparks, Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, 12:117 (Morris circular to governors, 15 Feb 82). (2) Burnett, Letters, 6:284 (Oliver Wolcott to Andrew Adams, 2 Jan 82).
85. Morris Letter Book B, fols, 433-35 (to Heath, 7 Feb 82).
86. (1) Washington Papers, 193:123 (Heath to Lincoln, 27 May 82). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 24:287 - 91 (to Morris, 17 - 25 May 82).
dependencies and that the contractors would furnish rations, but the nearest issuing store was at Fishkill. To depend on obtaining provisions from there was out of the question, particularly during the winter months when the Hudson was frequently impassable for days at a time. Moreover, the sick required fresh rather than salt meat in their diet, a fact that prevented receipt of a large quantity of supplies at any one time. The doctor's plea for an issuing store at Newburgh or New Windsor was supported by the Quartermaster General. Four months later Washington reiterated the same request.87
The mounting criticism during the first three months of 1782 included other complaints, such as the charge that the contractors offered the troops tainted provisions. If a quartermaster refused to accept them, the procedure for instituting a survey was so time-consuming that the soldiers went hungry while efforts were made to replace the bad provisions. General Heath thought a quicker method for settling disputes was necessary.88 At the same time, the officers were highly critical of the way in which the system affected them. They complained that they were overcharged for the provisions they obtained from the contractors. They protested that the contractors issued carcass beef to them without the kidney fat from which they made candies for their families. This matter was not trivial to them, for with inflated prices and delays in payment of wages, officers found any diminution of their subsistence allowance an additional hardship.89
As dissatisfactions increased, General Heath inquired whether contractors or their issuing clerks were not subject to martial law, and he raised the question of security. Was it not dangerous for a contractor's clerk in an issuing store to have accurate returns of the strength of the Army?90 Contractors obtained such information because they required a return from each regiment specifying the number of men present and absent. Heath also reported that supply failures were occurring under the contract system. His troops had not been able to draw any meat on 24 May 1782 or during the previous two days because there were neither fresh nor salted provisions at the post. Even more alarming than this immediate shortage was the fact that despite a clause in the contract requiring Sands and Company to maintain a reserve stock of provisions in a magazine for emergencies, the contractors had neglected to establish such reserves.91
87. (1) RG 93, Pickering Letters, 83:6-9 (Pickering and Dr Adams to Sands and Co, 4 Jan 82). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 24:259-60 (to Sands, 16 May 82).
88. Washington Papers, 193:120 (Heath to Lincoln, 26 Mar 82).
89. (1) Ibid., 192:34 (Stirling to Heath, 22 Feb 82, enclosed in Heath to Washington, 27 Feb 82); 196:80 (list of grievances, 29 Apr 82). (2) Ver Steel; dismisses the officers' quarrel over the kidney fat as a "trivium." See Clarence L. Ver Steeg, Robert Morris: Revolutionary Financier (Philadelphia, 1954), p. 143.
90. (1) Washington Papers, 193:123 (Heath to Lincoln, 27 Mar 82); 197:42 (Heath to Washington, 7 May 82). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 24:233 (to Heath, 8 May 82).
91. (1) Washington Papers, 194:59 (Heath to Washington, 6 Apr 82); 198:75 (same to same, 24 May 82). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 24:285-86 (to Sands, 25 May 82).
Remembering the inadequacies of the system of specific supplies, Washington was willing to make every allowance in order to see the contract system put into effective operation. "I am fully persuaded of the Importance and Utility of the present mode of feeding the Army," he assured Morris, and promised to use every effort to inculcate the same attitude in his officers.92 On the other hand, when Morris, disturbed by the difficulties he was encountering in the administration of contracts, insinuated that to change arrangements in response to one complaint made by the officers would only give rise to another, Washington was quick to defend the officers against the charge of captiousness. He suggested that the Superintendent of Finance had undoubtedly absorbed the viewpoint of Comfort Sands, who was "extremely plausible, extremely narrow minded, disingenuous and little abounding in a temper to conciliate the good will of the Army." Washington felt that the contractor was always ready to take advantage of those parts of the contract that enhanced his convenience or emolument.
Mr. Sands, Sir, if I have not formed a very Erroneous opinion of him is determined to make all the money he can by the Contracts. Herein I do not blame him, provided he does it honestly and with a reciprocal fulfillment of the agreement. Of a want of the first I do not accuse him but his thirst of Gain leads him in my opinion into a mistaken principle of Action.93
Contract for a Moving Army
In addition to making a number of small contracts, which went into effect without much trouble, Morris let another large contract in preparation for the campaign of 1782. Its purpose was to provision the moving army, that is, to supply rations to the troops who were to engage in active operations during the period 1 May to 31 December 1782. Morris awarded this contract to a number of men, including Comfort Sands. Associated with him in this new contract were Tench Francis of Philadelphia, who on more than one occasion had performed services for Robert Morris; Thomas Lowrey of New Jersey, who had been so helpful the previous year; Walter Livingston of New York, who was a former commissary; and Oliver Phelps and Timothy Edwards of Massachusetts, who both had long been active in purchasing provisions in that state. Phelps and Edwards also made a subcontract to supply all the meat required by the army under the main contract.94 Morris pointed out that these men were of reputable character and of such influence in their states that they ought to be able to fulfill their contracts satisfactorily.
92. Ibid., 24:158-59, 287-91 (to Morris, 23 Apr and 17-25 May 82).
93. (1) Washington Papers, 199:38 (Morris to Washington, 4 Jun 82). (2) Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 24:348-51 (to Morris, 16 Jun 82).
94. (1) Ibid., 24:125 (to Heath, 16 Apr 82). (2) Washington Papers, 194:46-66 (contract, 6 Apr 82); 194:81 (Lincoln to Washington, 8 Apr 82).
Moreover, the fact that the contractors were from different states eliminated a jealousy that had been growing because Pennsylvania appeared to be securing all the contracts and "thereby engrossing all the coin."95 Profiting from past experience, Morris included in the contract a provision that permitted him to appoint an inspector to attend the army and settle all disputes arising under the contract. Washington was pleased with this development, but Morris had trouble in filling the position. It was not until September that Ezekiel Cornell accepted appointment as inspector of contracts.96
With Comfort Sands involved in both the West Point contract and the contract for the moving army, keeping supply and accounts under each contract separate posed problems, especially since the army was then in the vicinity of West Point. It was natural to blend supply under the two contracts, a development that was further stimulated by Washington's efforts to prevent any disputes between the two sets of contractors. He tried to designate the particular troops to be supplied under each contract on 1 May, but it was impossible for him to determine precisely what the strength of the garrison at West Point and its dependencies would be. That strength would vary with the operations of the campaign, he informed the contractors. He feared that because of the fluctuation -in the number of rations to be issued, some dispute might arise between the contractors supplying the moving army and those providing for West Point. He therefore suggested that the contractors enter into some mutual agreement "so that the whole business might be executed upon one grand scale."97
During the summer of 1782 controversy with Comfort Sands dragged on through the formulation of bills of particulars and the appointment of arbitrators, in accordance with the provisions of the West Point contract. Fresh grievances continued to crop up. For example, the pound of flour which was supposed to be issued in lieu of bread when none was in store wag delivered at 13 instead of 16 ounces in the pound. A full pound of flour was ordered to be issued. Apparently prospects of harmony between the Continental Army and the contractors were much improved when former Commissary General of Issues Charles Stewart arrived at West Point to supervise issues for the contractors. "Colo Stewart, I have no doubt, will give peace," wrote one of Washington's aides, "but I am certain, the present Issuer would raise a mutiny in heaven."98 Dissatisfaction continued, however, over the failure of the contractors to provide vinegar or to issue rum.
The contractors, for their part, were uneasy about the settlement of their accounts. In mid-June Sands and Livingston began to complain that Morris
95. Ibid., 195:6 (Morris to Washington, 15 Apr 82); 194:81 (Lincoln to Washington, 8 Apr 82).
96. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 25:185 (to Morris, 22 Sep 82).
97. Ibid., 24:153-55 (to Comfort Sands and Co, 23 Apr 82).
98. Ibid., 24:388-89 (David Cobb to Secretary at War, 27 Jun 82).
was not paying them on time. Their subcontractors, who provided beef for the troops, were demanding payment, and the supply of cattle was already beginning to dwindle because accounts were not being settled. The notes that Morris sent in lieu of specie were not acceptable, and personal credit, they informed him, would go but a little way. Although they proposed extending their credit as far as possible, they insisted that they could not be held responsible for supply shortages resulting from lack of punctual payment.99 Such statements had been expressed often by commissaries in the past. Morris brusquely ordered Sands and Livingston to fulfill their contracts, asserting that there was no reason to doubt that they would be paid. Throughout the summer of 1782, however, the contractors continued to attribute all shortages and irregularity in supply to-their failure to receive regular payments on their contracts. "We have been so often and so repeatedly disappointed in getting our Money from the Public," Sands and Livingston informed General Heath on 28 July, "that we are obliged to buy from day to day wherever a little Credit is to be had."100
Much to Morris' embarrassment, the two companies of contractors had joined together as if under one contract and were presenting a monthly account to him for payment of 45,000 to 60,000 dollars. Morris was hard pressed to meet his obligations. Ever since May when Sir Guy Carleton, who bad replaced Sir Henry Clinton at New York, had thrown out hints of a settlement, war-weary Americans had been discussing peace. Those hopes, Morris complained, had resulted in a total stoppage of mercantile business and had adversely affected his department in many different ways. The states were even more dilatory in collecting taxes than in the past. These circumstances combined to make it impossible for Morris to pay the contractors promptly.
Morris had believed that competition among private contractors would result in advantageous terms for the government. Instead, the principal contractors, in addition to joining together to make demands on him, had entered into private and subordinate agreements with each other, thereby seriously impairing the competition that Morris had counted on to act as a check on profits. The contract system was not working as he had hoped. Cooperation, not competition, now marked the relationship between the leading contractors.
On 11 September 1782 Sands and his associates threatened to cease supplying the army as of 1 October unless Morris promised indemnification for all damages they had sustained from failure of the government to meet its obligations. Morris seized this opportunity and refused to make such a
99. Washington Papers, 200:34 (Sands and Livingston to Morris, 17 Jun 82); 30 (Sands to Washington, 17 Jun 82).
100. Ibid., 200:86 (Morris to Sands and Livingston, 22 Jun 82); 88 (Morris to Washington, 22 Jun 82); 202:78 (Sands and Livingston to Heath, 28 Jul 82).
promise, allowing it to appear that the contract was canceled by default of the contractors.101 Greatly alarmed, Washington inquired of the Superintendent of Finance whether a change in the method of supply ought not to be resolved on immediately. If necessity compelled a return to the ruinous system of specific supplies, he wrote, it ought to be done in time to establish magazines before winter set in.102
The failure to obtain taxes from the states, Morris informed Washington in October, had forced him into a disadvantageous arrangement to supply the troops, though he assured the Commander in Chief that they would be supplied. Under the old contract it had cost 3 1/3 dollars a month to feed a soldier. At that rate, 24,000 rations would have cost 80,000 dollars a month. That figure was more than what all the states had paid in taxes on 1 August. And now he had been obliged, he explained, "to submit to cancelling one contract and forming another, at one third advance on the former price.... I am in advance on credit to an amount, which you can scarcely form an idea of."103
Morris was referring to a contract made at his direction by Inspector Comell with the firm of Wadsworth and Carter to supply the main army, the garrison at West Point, and its dependencies with rations from 16 October to 31 December 1782. Wadsworth and Carter had agreed to extend three months' credit, but in return they received an increase in the rate of payment per ration from 10 to 13 pence in Pennsylvania currency. Though Morris confessed that warning the states of the consequences that would follow from delays in collecting taxes was "like preaching to the dead," he continued to lecture them on the losses being sustained. These losses included not only the increased costs of furnishing the ration for the rest of 1782 but also the damages that the original contractors subsequently might collect from the government after years of litigation. Morris, however, questioned whether they had ever sustained any damages. "I have been informed that the Contractors were Gainers by the Dissolution of the Contract," he wrote Sands when the question of claims was raised in 1783.104 Though disappointed in the failure of the contract system to promote competitive bidding among contractors and thereby restrict their profits, Morris nevertheless considered it the only feasible method of subsisting the Continental Army. He therefore negotiated a contract with the firm of Duer and Parker to supply the troops during 1783. It agreed to furnish rations within the states of New York and New Jersey.105
101. (1) Ibid., 206:50-52 (contractors to Morris, 11 Sep 82). (2) Morris Letter Book D, fols. 334-39 (to Pres of Cong, 21 Oct 82).
102. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 25:188 (22 Sep 82).
103. Sparks, Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution, 12:299 (15 Oct 82).
104. Morris Letter Book D, fols. 213-14, 217-18 (to Cornell, 20 and 23 Sep 82); 334-39 (to Pres of Cong, 21 Oct 82); 339-45 (circular to governors, 21 Oct 82); Letter Book E, fol. 153 (to Sands, I I Mar 83).
105. Washington Papers, 212:119 (Morris to Washington, 19 Dec 82).
It is difficult to assess the operation of the contract system. Morris won praise from a congressional committee for the order and economy he had introduced in the transactions of his office. There can be no question that the contract system provided a far more orderly procedure for subsisting the troops than the system of specific supplies. Nor can it be denied that during 1782 and 1783 the contract system promoted economy by eliminating issuing commissaries and reducing functions heretofore performed by government personnel. Economy, however, was not achieved in all areas. Morris had to pay a higher price per ration when contractors extended credit, as purchasing commissaries had been compelled to do at an earlier time. The total cost of provisioning the troops in 1782 also included 40,000 dollars later paid to Sands and Company as compensation for the abrogation of the firmís contract.
Comparisons between the Commissariat and the contract system are not feasible. The contract system functioned under what amounted to peacetime conditions. The contractors were never called on to support a campaign. The Continental Army dwindled in size, no militia demanding provisions were called out to increase its strength, and troop movements virtually ended. Yet the cost of the ration was high and remained so. That subsisting the Continental Army was profitable to the contractors is suggested by the prominent roles that most of them played in postwar financial affairs in their respective states.107
Washington had been critical of the Commissariat, of the system of specific supplies, and of Comfort Sands. Early in 1783, however, he wrote to General Heath that he enjoyed "the satisfaction of seeing the Troops better covered, better clothed, and better fed, than they have ever been in any former Winter Quarters."108 To conclude in consequence that the Continental Army was at last satisfied with the provision of rations under the contract system would be an error. Some three months later Washington was sending Duer and Parker complaints of irregular issues and bad and unwholesome provisions.109 Relations with the contractors were no more harmonious in 1783 than they had been the previous year. As the war ended, charges against the contractors concerning poor quality of food and abuses in issuing provisions were being investigated-as they had been in 1782 and would be in future years as long as the contract system endured.110
106. JCC, 24:396-98 (17 Jun 83).
107. East, Business Enterprise in the American Revolutionary Era, passim.
108. Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington, 26:97 (5 Feb 83).
109. Ibid., 26:459-60 (27 May 83).
110. Washington Papers, 221:58, 70, 82 (Heath to Washington, 1 Jun 83, and enclosures).
Return to the Table of Contents