Military Structure

Logistics and the Continental Army: A Review in Four Parts

Logistics and the Continental Army:

A Review in Four Parts

by Joe Wagner

Discussion and Review of:

Supplying Washington’s Army by Erna Rich, published by the Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, 1981.

Logistics:  “. . . the branch of military science dealing with the procurement, maintenance, and movement of equipment, supplies, and personnel.”

The Continental Army winter camp at Valley Forge in 1777-78 is the stuff of legend.  A pitiable, cold, starving army in rags perseveres through all hardship to emerge in the spring ready to fight and win.  Skeptics will point out that it really wasn’t all that tough a winter from a meteorological point of view; the succeeding winter at Morristown, NJ was far more intense.    But for the men who were there, it was a time of real hardship.  More than the cold, the lack of clothing, food, fuel, and every necessity of life were made worse by the knowledge that the British were only a few miles away in the warmth and comfort of their late capitol, Philadelphia.  Why was there such a logistical failure at Valley Forge –what caused the inability of the Continentals to support themselves in the field for those cold winter months?

This first article begins a four-part series on logistics of the Continental Army drawn from the comprehensive US Army Military History Center publication that details the planning and execution necessary to support an American army in the field during the Revolution.  It will provide some information for the reenactment and interpretation of that world of 235 years ago.  It was easy enough to call up the militia, appoint the generals and colonels, establish tables for rations and clothing, and plan a campaign.  But who brings the ammo and the flints?  Where are the tents and kitchen gear?  Who collects the food that is authorized for each man?  Where are the wagons and carts to carry everything?  Where do the horses and oxen come from to pull the wagons – and who feeds those?  How does an army stay in one place for months and not suck dry the surrounding countryside?  Or how does it move twenty miles, or two hundred, and expect to find everything it needs along the way and at the other end?  And how did a collection of colonies with no experience or logistics structure instantaneously create the people and processes necessary to do all of these things and a million more?

The sections on Logistics to be provided here are:

Part I.  The Quartermaster General

Part II. Transport and Forage

Part III.  Subsistence and Clothing

Part IV.  Ordinance

Each Part will be posted on the First Virginia blog in future weeks and months.

Logistics Part Three: Subsistence and Clothing

Logistics and the Continental Army:

A Review in Four Parts

Part Three: Subsistence and Clothing

by Joe Wagner

Logistics:  “. . . the branch of military science dealing with

the procurement, maintenance, and movement

of equipment, supplies, and personnel.”

The Commissary General

From 1775 until the summer of 1781, just before the Yorktown campaign, feeding the troops of the Continental Army was accomplished using a Commissariat system.  This simply means the collection and distribution of food was performed by an independent organization not responsible to the military command structure, with specialists assigned to carry out the job.  Their leader was the Commissary General. There were four Commissary Generals during that period – Joseph Trumbull, William Buchanan, Jeremiah Wadsworth, and Ephraim Blaine.


French Military in Canada

French Military in Canada:

An Overview Of French Forces During The French & Indian War

 By Joe Wagner

The content of this article goes somewhat afield from the typical Revolutionary War focus, but it is relevant enough to the reenactor experience in several ways to merit a look.  First of all, the history of the French military in Canada influenced military developments to the south in the English colonies, along with the obvious English models, from the French & Indian (F & I) War leading up to the Revolution.   It was, after all, against those French forces that our senior officers and statesmen, from Washington on down, fought two decades before our Revolution. Also, the military traditions of France, as exhibited in North America during the F & I War, give insights into the next generation of French forces who shared our War of Independence, as well as their influence on our own uniform, weapons, drill, etc.   Lastly, since any biography of George Washington or other Revolutionary leaders includes their early interactions with the French during both the F&I war as well as their collaboration during the Revolution, that knowledge is broadened by this background information.

Not the least interesting aspect of this research are the sources, which include an English  translation of a mid 20th century historical analysis by the Montreal Military Museum (La Societe du Musee Militaire & Maritime de Montreal),   and a 1759 French Army publication, “Etat Militaire de France”, which, among other things, listed all of the regiments then serving in North America, along with their organizational structure, uniform details, names of their officers, operational experiences, and where they were serving.  Four years earlier, in May 1755, was published a third piece of source material – “Exercice de L’Infantrie Francoise”.  This 80 page manual is a gold mine of period information on French drill, equipment, commands, and movements, as well as very detailed verbal explanation, in French and English, of each drill movement.  The detail of description and the quality of the engraved plates is outstanding.


Camp Life

Camp Life

By Joe Wagner

The following quotes are taken from a document entitled “ Orderly Book of Captain Robert Gamble of the Second Virginia Regiment, Commanded by Colonel Christian Febiger, August 21 – November 16, 1779”  They offer some insights on the daily doings of an American unit in camp.  The setting is Fort Montgomery, New York, overlooking the Hudson River, where in the fall of 1779 the American Corps of Light Infantry was in camp.  Spelling is, as always in those times, a do-it-yourself experience.

Listen up musick


Regimental order Sept. 1st ’79

. . .  the Col. o[b]serving that the Drums & Fifes in Stead of Improving themselves since they have Been on this Detachment have Grone a Great Deal worse Direct that Phillip Goaf,  Fifer in the 1st Battalion, and Wm. Armstead, Drumer of Second, take out the Drums & Fifes of the Reg’t Every afternoon Sundays and Rainy Day[s] exsepttd to Practice for hours From four to six o’clock,

After-dinner Entertainment