The Revolutionary War Soldier

What was it like to be a soldier?

If you were age 16-60 you could fight in the militia. Each man/boy had to have their own flintlock, a bayonet, sword, or tomahawk. Other things they must have included:  priming, brush and pick, pouch or cartridge box, flints, knapsack, blanket, canteen, and a jack knife. 

Uniforms were scarce and not supplied by the states.  Once clothing wore out, many men wore tatters.  Washington begged for supplies from Congress.  In many cities, women sewed what they could to send to the officers.  Even Martha Washington worked to help clothe soldiers when she would visit her husband at camp. 


field cannon

Many men wore hunting shirts to save on the wear and tear of the uniforms.  Oddly enough the British thought men wearing them were marksmen and feared these men.  This worked to the Patriots' advantage.  Some regiments dyed them different colors but they were usually made of deerskin, homespun, or linen.  The men would have to make their own repairs.  They sewed and replaced buttons as best they could.  Many buttons were made from discarded meat bones.  Buttons would often times have the regiment's numbers pressed or carved into them.  This was important if you were captured or died as it helped others identify the soldiers.



Amazingly shoes were both the same and interchanged to minimize wear.  They had no left and right shoe. 

Washington tried to keep uniforms within certain parameters.  While the colors may differ, the styles were similar.  All men wore breeches in the beginning, but soon they were wearing long overalls or leggings.  In 1778, the French sent a shipment of uniforms which allowed many to be completely outfitted the same. 
Howitzer cannon

caltrops, gunner's quadrant and other tools

wooden canteen

Infantrymen were trained by the Marquis de Lafayette or Baron Von Steuben.  Baron Von Steuben was a drill master who took control over the ragtag forces and taught them military maneuvers.  He would start them at six in the morning and usually keep them going until six at night.  He always started with a small group and would move on to a bigger group until the entire regiment was marching and working in unison.  The men respected him and his strict yet cheerful manner.


muskets and rifles

jaws, comb, and cockpin of a rifle


spikes and rifles

Types of muskets - militiaman's fowler, brown bess musket, or the French musket.  These needed to be maintained and repaired on a regular basis to pass inspection.  It would not do at all for a musket to misfire and injure a fellow soldier.  Every night cartridges must be prepared for the next day.  Soldiers were given a ration of powder, cartridge paper, and bullets.  Sometimes they had to make their own bullets and woul heat the pewter and pour it into a mold.  For many soldiers a powder horn would be made from an old oxen or cattle horn that was hollowed out to hold the powder.  Some were even decorated with designs.

Every soldier carried a cartridge box which held their prepared cartridges. Most cartridge boxes were worn on the right side.

camp laundry

Inside a soldier's tent

tent for supplies

doctor's tools - surgical scissors, trephining, extractor,  and blistering iron

Soldiers who rode in the cavalry were men who rode horses.  They were often called dragoons and carried pistols as well as sabers.  They had to be fast and accurate. They would spy on the enemy and be able to get away quickly.  But there were also infantry who would lead the charge.  The soldiers wore special helmets that protected their heads from a saber slash.  The Calvary were given a stock, a cap, one comb, a pair of breeches, two pairs of stockings, two pairs of gaters, three pairs of shoes, buckles, a spear, a cartridge box.  Unfortunately even the Calvary could not afford all of these supplies.

What if the soldier was in charge of the artillery? These soldiers worked the cannons.  A cannon could weigh 3200 pounds and take several horses to move it about.  Types of cannons include: the field cannon that fired solid shot to destroy forts or grape shot to fire into troops; a garrison cannon that could fire at ships; the howitzer cannon that had a high trajectory; and a mortar cannon that also had a high trajectory when firing bombs.

Drums were a familiar sound on the battlefield.  There were several drum commands.  The general command signaled the army to strike tents.  The assembly command called troops to repair to the colors.  The march command called the troops to move out.  The reveille command called soldiers to rise in the morning. The tattoo command called soldiers to return to their tents until reveille in the morning.  The "to arms" command calls soldiers to take up their weapons.  The parlay command calls when an enemy wishes to speak. 

Camp rations were not the best.  When the soldiers were on the march they ate salt pork and beef.  Watercress would be used for salads.  When camp was struck, the food got better, especially if it was near a city.  Fresh baked bread could be made as well as corned beef, pork, fresh beef and fish. 

Illness for soldiers struck the younger ones first. Many were sent to a hospital where the men were in rooms with dozens of other men with a variety of diseases.  Of course no one knew then how diseases spread so few men survived an army hospital.

Some illnesses include: typhoid fever, dysentery/diarrhea, white plague, pleurisy, smallpox, ague, and scurvy. Some remedies included cathartics or laxatives, emetics, enemas, blistering, and bloodletting.  Sometimes surgery was necessary to relieve bleeding in the skull, amputating a limb, or removing a musket ball.

Soldiers were given awards or honors for bravery.  Service stripes were given when there was a change of rank or when a soldier served more than three or six years.  The purple heart was given for a particular act of bravery.  The Society of the Cincinnati was given to officers of the war. 

No comments: