A Study of Army Camp Life during American Revolution

A Study of Army Camp Life during American Revolution
Title: A Study of Army Camp Life during American Revolution
Release Date: 2017-11-13
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Title Page

Transcriber's Note

The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.

Footnote 194: Missing reference page number.

Footnotes have been placed at end of their respective chapter.

Obvious punctuation and spelling errors have been repaired.


B. S. North-Western College, 1917.

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of

Acceptance Form


Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI



The object of this study is to produce a picture of theprivate soldier of the American Revolution as he lived, ate, waspunished, played, and worshiped in the army camp. Drawing thatpicture not only from the standpoint of the continental congress,the body which made the rules and regulations for governing thearmy, or from the officer's view point as they issued orders fromheadquarters rather just a study of the soldier himself in the campconditions and his reaction to them. It was easy for congress todetermine the rations or for the commander-in-chief to issue ordersabout housing conditions and sanitation, but the opportunities forobeying those orders were not always the best. It is just that fact,not what was intended, but what happened, that is to be discussed.

The soldier in camp is an aspect of the RevolutionaryWar which has been taken up only in a very general way by writersof that period of history, except perhaps the conditions at ValleyForge, for at least their terrible side is quite generally known.Charles Knowles Bolton has studied the private soldier under Washington1,but has emphasized other phases of the soldier's life thanthose taken up in this study.

The material has been gathered mostly from letters,journals, orderly books, and diaries of the officers and privates,written while in camp. The difficulty confronted has been to getthe diaries of the private soldier. They have either not been2published or if they have been published they have been edited in sucha way as to make them useless for a study of social conditions incamp, the emphasis having been placed on the military operations andtactics rather than the every day incidents in the soldier's life.

The soldier has been studied after he went into camp.Little has been said about the conditions which led to the war orthe conditions as they were before the struggle began except as theyare used to explain existing facts. It has been the plan in most ofthe chapters to give a brief resume of the plans made by congressor the commander-in-chief for the working out of that particularpart of the organization, then to describe the conditions as theyreally were.

There has been no attempt made, for it would be an almostimpossible task, to give a picture of the life in all thecamps but rather the more representative phases have been describedor conditions in general have been discussed.

The first phase of camp life considered is that of thehousing conditions, the difficulties encountered, the descriptionof the huts, the method of construction, and the furnishing. Thisis followed in the second chapter with a study of the food andclothing, the supply and scarcity of those necessities. Thethird chapter will have to do with the health and sanitation ofthe soldier while encamped, the hospital system, the number sick,the diseases most prevalent and the means of prevention. Thesoldier's leisure time will be the subject of the fourth chapter, thesort of recreation he had been in the habit of at home and theways he found of amusing himself in camp conditions. The soldier'sreligion forms the subject matter of the fifth chapter, the influence3of the minister before the war, his place in the army, thereligious exercises in camp and their effect upon the individualand the war in general. The last chapter will in a way be a recapitulationof all that has gone before by drawing a picture of aday with a soldier in camp emphasizing the discipline and duties ofcamp life.

1. Bolton, The Private Soldier Under Washington.


Chapter I

The war was on, the Lexington and Concord fray wasover, Paul Revere had made his memorable ride, and the young patriotswith enthusiasm at white heat were swarming from village and countrysideleaving their work and homes. Where they were going theydid not know, they were going to fight with little thought of wherethey were to live or what they were to eat and wear. There was acontinental congress but it had little authority and the fact wasthat very few members of that mushroom growth army even felt thatthey were fighting for a confederation for in their minds they werefor the various states, and it was to the various states they lookedfor support and it was to those states that the honors were to go.It was not until the day before the battle of Bunker Hill that congresshad appointed a commander-in-chief and it was almost a monthlater when Washington took command in Boston. There was an army ofsixteen thousand men mostly from the New England States strengthenedby about three thousand from the more southern states during the nextmonth2. It was more nearly a mob than an army. There was no directingforce, no one to superintend the building of barracks, noone to distribute food or to take charge of the supplies.

The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts on hearing ofWashington's appointment ordered on June 26, 1775 "the President's(of the college) house in Cambridge, excepting one room, reserved5for the President for his own use, be taken, cleared, prepared,and furnished for the reception of General Washington and GeneralLee"3. It seems as though the General only occupied that housefor a short time and then moved to what was called the "Craige House"for on July 8, 1775, the committee of safety directed that the houseof John Vassel, a refugee loyalist, should be put in condition forthe reception of the commander-in-chief and later that his welfareshould be looked after, by providing him with a steward, a housekeeper,and such articles of furniture as he might ask for.4

Such were the headquarters of the first camp of theRevolution but the story of the privates' quarters is quite a differentthing. The troops were not quartered at one place, they werescattered about the surrounding territory some at Roxbury, some atWinter Hill, others at Prospect Hill and Sewall's Farm and at varioussmall towns along the coast.5 Some of them were living in housesand churches, others were occupying barns6 and still others wereconstructing their own places of shelter using sail cloth, logs,stones, mud, sod, rails or anything else which would lend itselfto the purpose.7 A good description of this motley host is givenus by Rev. Wm. Emerson of Concord, "the sight is very diverting6to walk among the camps. They are as different in their form as theowners are in their dress and every tent is a portraiture of thetemper and taste of the persons who encamp in it. Some are made ofboards, some of sail cloth, again others are made of stone and turfbrick or brush. Some are thrown up in a hurry, others curiouslywrought with doors and windows done with wreaths and withes in themanner of a basket".8 Washington wrote from Cambridge to congresson July 10, 1775 about a month after taking command and said, "welabor under great Disadvantages for want of tents for tho' theyhave been help'd out by a collection of now useless sails from theSea Port Towns, the number is yet far short of our Necessities"9.

When tents were used for shelter at Cambridge or atother places it was very seldom that any thing more than "MotherEarth" served as floors and sometimes that was so wet and miry thatthe soldiers during the rainy seasons were forced to raise the groundwith "Rushes, Barks, and Flags in the dry"10 and at other times thetents were taken down during the day for the ground to dry and thenput up again at night.

It would be difficult to get any where more frank reactionsto housing conditions than those which were given by Dr.Waldo11 in a poem written while in camp describing the general conditions7but particularly the tents and huts. The part quoted belowdescribes a stormy day and the hardships endured when the army wasencamped in tents.

"Though huts in Winter shelter give,
Yet the thin tents in which we live,
Through a long summer's hard campaign,
Are slender coverts from the rain,
And oft no friendly barn is nigh
Or friendlier house to keep us dry.
* * * * *
Move tents and baggage to some height,
And on wet cloths, wet blankets lie
Till welcome sunshine makes them dry.
Others despising storm and rain
Still in the flat and vale remain,
There sleep in water muck and mire,
Or drizzling stand before a fire
Composed of stately piles of wood,
Yet oft extinguished with the flood."12

As the weather grew colder and the men were still intents it was the practice to build chimneys13 on the tents or ratherin front of the tents. They were built on the outside and concealedthe entrance which served the double purpose of keeping out8the wind and also keeping in as much heat as possible.14

The tents were supposed to house about six men and nomore than fourteen tents were allowed to a company of about seventytwo.15 The tent was the most common mode of housing. It was usedwhenever it was possible to get material except when the army wentinto winter quarters then the log huts were built. The tents wereusually formed in two ranks in regular lines16 and often the seasonsadvanced so rapidly that the snow would be four feet deep aroundeach tent17, it even being February before the huts were finishedin some instances18.

The furnishings of the tents were very meagre, oneperson even remarking that they were greatly favored in having asupply of straw for beds. The straw was placed on the ground and fiveor six soldiers would crowd together on it hoping to keep warm19,sometimes each had a blanket and sometimes there was one blanket forthree or four.

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