Following the Troops - Women on the Ration

Camp Life -
     Very rarely does the group have the opportunity to stay in dwellings.  Usually we camp as the original troop would have during their active campaigning.  If the regimental wagons were able to keep up with the troop, then the men (and campfollowers) would have sheltered at night under canvas. As do we.  If the wagons were not able to keep up, or there were material shortages, or if we are portraying the troops on piquet, then no tents are used and the men roll up in their cloaks.
     Research has provided some useful clues to the type of tents the regiment used.  Early in the war, the regiment was issued 25, ten men,  round, single pole tents and 7, five men, wedge tents.  In the closing months of the war, returns still show both tents, although the wedge tents have become more numerous.
     Horses were restrained on picket lines: a rope tied tightly between two trees or stakes served as a ‘hitching rail’. Part of the horse equipment issued to dragoons included a wool blanket that was folded and placed under the saddle.  In severe weather, this saddle blanket served as a cover for the horse.  References exist of officers reminding their men that in cold weather they had to use the saddle blanket on their horses rather than keep them solely for their own comfort.

Food and supplies -
     The sufferings of the Continental soldiers at Valley Forge and elsewhere during the American Revolution are legendary, but it wasn’t just the Continental soldiers that endured hardship in the field.  The British troops were at a disadvantage in North America, hampered by inefficiency and corruption at home and the 3000-mile journey that their supplies had to travel.  Like the Continentals, the British augmented their rations by foraging from their surroundings, but even so, British soldiers were often severely underfed and undersupplied.

     Feeding the British army in the field was a huge undertaking.  A list of the provisions received by Commissary-General Daniel Weir at New York between 7 Oct 1774 and 5 Sept 1781 includes the following items:
Bread 512,182 lbs.
Spirits 42,655 gals
Beef 42,832 lbs
Pork 83,269 lbs
Flour 164,884 lbs
Raisins  2,574 lbs
Pease 1,148 bushels
Oatmeal  12,007 gallons
Rice  91,557 lbs.
Oil 2,385 gals.
Butter 14,516 lbs.
Cheese 251 lbs
Vinegar 4,618 gals. 

     According to Commissary general Nathaniel Day, the daily diet of a soldier in Burgoyne’s army in 1777  was intended to be the following: 1 lb bread or flour, 1 lb beef or 9 and 1/7 ounce pork; 3/7 pints of cheese; and an ounce  of rice or oatmeal.     Although these foodstuffs arrived in North America from Britain, there is no guarantee that it all reached the troops in the field, in fact it is certain that all of it did not.  Food was not abundant and delays in distribution and improper handling meant that much of the food was rotten and uneatable by the time it reached the soldiers.   “very old Bread, Weavile Eaten, full of Maggots, mouldy, musty and rotten and entirely unfit for men to eat”.
     Modern re-enactors typically live much better than their historic predecessors, and the 17th LD is no exception.  In camp, we eat better and sleep warmer and drier than the original dragoons did.  However, those visiting (or joining) the group should be prepared to eat much like our predecessors did.  Even though we will never reach 100% authenticity* in our re-creation of history, hands-on experience in 18th century technologies (like starting a fire with flint and tinder or using cast iron cookware) helps us understand more fully what life in the 18th century camp was like. Achieving high standards of authenticity is a gradual process, but it is something that we work towards as a group.

*who would really want to?  Lice infestation, dysentary, small pox, etc., are things that need not be truly experienced to understand that they were bad . . .*

Families -
     Although some officers were accompanied by their wives and children on campaign, most men in the ranks were discouraged from marrying, but many of them apparently made less official arrangements. According to regulations, they were allowed six women per company to be carried on the army’s ration rolls. Commanders of both armies tried to limit numbers of ‘unofficial’ camp followers because they and their children were fed (officially or not) from the supply wagons.  There are also references to women and children encumbering baggage wagons and slowing the march of the army.
     However, the presence of women had beneficial effects, as well.  They sometimes served as nurses on campaign and also did more mundane work such as laundry, cooking and foraging.  Their effect on morale was also important, if less empirical.  There is at least one reference to a transport ship delaying its departure due to “mutinous behavior” of the men, demanding that their allowed quota of campfollowers be allowed on board.
     The hardships, which these families endured, can not be fully imagined.  Like their husbands and fathers, these families traveled hundreds/ thousands of miles on foot – all the while suffering from malnutrition, lack of adequate shelter, clothing, and basic medical care.  In friendly areas, they could hope to find charity from the people.  In those areas in arms against King, they could hope for very little.  In either community, they found themselves being treated as the lowest in society.  If a soldier was among the refuse of society, what could those that followed him possibly be?
Other Civilians - 
     A regiment was not self sufficient and required the skills and talents of those from without.  Such manpower/skill shortages were overcome by contracting civilians for specific periods of time or projects.  Typically, the regiment hired wagons and teamsters to carry the regimental stores.  Carpenters, masons, and smiths were hired to build shelter, fabricate equipment, maintain the regimental animals, etc., etc.