Supply Train Problems During the Revolutionary War

by Daniel Russ on June 25, 2019

In “Valley Forge” by Bob Drury, Tom Clavin we talk about how difficult it was to provision Colonial Troops even though they fought on their own soil versus an army from an ocean away.

Every recruit was promised daily a pound of bread, three pints of dried vegetables, a pint of milk, a quart of spruce beer or cider, and a pound of either beef, pork, or salted fish, with one soldier observing that salt was “as valuable as gold.

Ineptitude on maintaining a supply line and managing distribution to even a small army hurt the Colonials.

Salted meat and beef on the hoof were nearly nonexistent in camp, flour was in short supply, and even liquor was rare. A typical Continental soldier considered beer as much of a necessity as bread, and Washington himself had long been a healthy consumer of English porter.

“When informed that his soldiers were selling their clothing in order to purchase beer and whiskey from local brewers and distillers, he issued a General Order forbidding the sale of liquor by private vendors in and around the encampment. Should these “tippling house” purveyors persist, he warned that their alcohol would be seized and they would be lashed. But no executive decree could magically fill the army’s larders. Soon the officers in charge of the commissaries were hard pressed to provide victuals on a day-to-day basis, much less enough to sustain an all-out engagement against a dug-in enemy. If an army marches on its stomach, Washington’s troops were nearer to crawling, and the commander in chief”

Thomas Mifflin, Governor of Pennsylvania

“Whatever the commander in chief’s differences with Mifflin, more important was the near collapse of the Continental Army’s already tenuous supply chain. On October 14, after surveying the clothing needs of his troops, Washington penned a beseeching letter to John Hancock. “It gives me pain to repeat so often the wants of the Army,” he began, “and nothing would induce me to it, but the most urgent necessity. Every mode hitherto adopted for supplying them has proved inadequate, notwithstanding my best endeavours to make the most of the means, which have been in my power. The inclosed return will shew how great our deficiency in the most essential Articles.””


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