Soldiers' Life during American Revolutionary War

If on your family tree you were able to trace the lineage of an ancestor who lived during the start of the American Revolutionary War – 1776 to its conclusion of 1783, here is some information of life during those times would have been like – especially those who served in the milita.

Some who served already had experience prior to 1776 with combat during the French and Indian Wars but many during the war years this was their first such combat experience. It was up to the those experienced military men, such as George Washington to change the men into a fighting army.

Checking your family tree, especially those males ages 15 to 45, who being able-bodied, it would be mandatory for them to serve in the army. It took time to get the army camps supplied and especailly trained. The camps were for the most part laid out without regard to the requirements of sanitation, with latrines too near water supplies. Many of the men didn’t resort to the latrines at all, preferring to relieve themselves where they chose. Fighting, gambling, and drunkenness was common among the men, with their officers unable or unwilling to put a stop to it. The men of each state regarded those of other states with disdain, and sometimes outright enmity.

Training of the soldiers was important as well as the camp’s food supply. The main meal of the day was prepared by each soldier and eaten at mid-afternoon. Both the quantity and quality of the food was lacking for several years, due to a poor quartermaster corps of the army and getting food supplies to each camp.

Officially the uniform coat of the Continental soldier was designated by Congress as brown, with buff facings, not the blue uniform so often depicted in art and in motion pictures. Not until 1779 would Washington direct that the Continental Army coat be of blue cloth (the uniform color of the Virginia militia from whence he came), with the facings of a color which would denote their regiment. As the war went on, many Continental Army soldiers wore the red coats of the British or the dark blue or black of the German mercenaries, taken from prisoners or the dead of the battlefield, in lieu of no replacement coats being available from the commissaries. By 1782, when most of the fighting was over, the uniform for the Continental Army was finally standardized, though the army was still clad in many cases by whatever the soldiers could find.

When an army camp was moved, the soldier carried most if not all of his personal equipment, which included his musket, ammunition, a bayonet if he was so fortunate to be equipped with one, a haversack in which he carried any spare clothing which he possessed, a blanket, personal items such as a knife and spoon (few had forks), a razor, tobacco if he was so inclined, and any other personal possessions. Few carried any money, as hard money was scarce and Continental paper money was so inflated to be for the most part useless. As with any army some carried contraband as well, playing cards, flasks of rum, food foraged on the march, and the favorite gambling device of the Continental soldier, dice.

Many of the troops had signed up for just one year, so it was a struggle to encourage a soldier to sign up for additonal time. Many did but also many soldiers returned to their homes.

One major item many people are not aware was that during the Revolutionary War, one of nine fatalities suffered by the Continental Army was due to combat. The rest were from disease and accidents. One very bad disease was smallpox. George Washington was determined to eradicate smallpox from his army, and during the winter encampment of 1776-77 he, took action to do so, having the troops under his command inoculated from the disease, extending the campaign against smallpox to the local population. His order, issued on January 6, 1777, extended mandatory inoculation against smallpox to all new recruits (unless they could prove they had previously contracted the disease) and for the first time American fighting men faced mandatory “shots” as part of their induction into the service.

It was with the later assistance of Baron von Struben who really help shaped the Continental Army. He provided detailed descriptions of how the army should establish and maintain encampments. Von Steuben ensured that the soldiers in camp, under the supervision of their officers and non-commissioned officers, took steps necessary to the preservation of health and hygiene. He directed that in clear weather tents be struck daily, with the bedding within well aired. He forbade the consumption of meals inside of tents, except during inclement weather. Under von Steuben, the company mess tent came into being.

So it was not an easy life for the inexperienced and experienced soldiers during the American Revolution War and for your own ancestorial patriot.

Photo: American Revolutionary soldiers

Related Blogs:

Any American Revolutionary Soldier in Your Family?

What to Use to Find Ancestors Who Served during the American Revolution

Prisoners During American Revolution

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